NOD by Adrian Barnes – Imagine a World without Sleep

Nod by Adrian Barnes


Nod is an apocalyptic novel about a world gripped by lack of sleep. How will those affected look for order in the new chaos?

Content: sleep deprivation, psychosis, cancer

When the sun rises on a world disturbed by eternal wakefulness, a new world is born from the ashes of the old one. Welcome to the land of Nod, ‘on the east syde of Eden’.

With much of the world experiencing eternal day, those few who can still slumber have ‘the dream’ – a nightmare in which the world dissolves to golden light. Paul, our etymologist* guide, is fortunate enough to be a sleeper. His partner, Tanya, is not so fortunate. She slips into psychosis along with the rest of the awakened, a direct result of six days of absolute sleep deprivation in line with current medical understanding.

Watching everyone around him fail to sleep, Paul must decide how much his beloved words really mean to him. Each chapter title is an unusual word or phrase followed by its meaning. This subtly foreshadows events and emphasizes that the story is told by Paul, a lover of discarded words. We are only seeing one perspective of a global crisis…

To me, this stand-alone dystopian book is magic art**. Here’s why:

The entire time we somehow feel disconnected from Paul, his voice one of observation without judgment. As we analyze the unfolding of the characters, we begin to understand the unspoken complexity of our social structures. We rely on order; this law is not established by us. We see how, living in hopeless belief, the characters in Nod idealize those people or communities who have grasped power by promising structure.

This story begins at the end, yet we are not less enticed by its plot. We are sucked into the novel, desperate to find out how and why everything in the first chapter (labelled day 18 when the final day is 24) happens the way it does. Normally I’ll tend to find myself flicking through to the final pages of a book to complete a slow plot. With Nod‘s slightly nonlinear structure, I was so entangled in the stories of individual characters I never considered flicking to the end. The deviant placement of day 18 also forces us to reflect on the political messages of the novel as well as the pleasures of fiction: the ending is not a mystery.

Adrian Barnes was born in England but grew up in Canada. His inspirations include Lewis Carroll and his offer of a new world. He was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer in early 2016: a Glioblastoma Multiforme tumor in his skull. In his short essay, ‘My Cancer is as Strange as my fiction’, he suggests that ‘both the disease and my novel’ have ‘eerie similarities’ – especially between ‘the eye on the book’s cover and an image of the tumor itself’.

*Etymology is the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.

**Art that makes us see our reality differently (R. G. Collingwood).