Every so often, an apocalyptic novel comes along with literary aspirations. Some fantastic global event occurs, and human nature is explored as ordinary people now must cope with their world suddenly changing. BLINDNESS by Jose Saramago and THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS by John Wyndham come to mind. I wrote SUFFER THE CHILDREN with that specific apocalyptic flavor in mind.
Adrian Barnes’s NOD is such a novel, based on a simple premise: What if almost everybody in the world stopped sleeping? One night, insomnia strikes. The next day, the world discovers that everybody shared the same affliction. The next night, the same. And the next, with no end in sight.
After six days of sleep deprivation, psychosis sets in. In four weeks, the body dies. In the interim, the world goes mad.
The story centers on Paul, a writer and misanthrope, who is one of the few who can sleep; his partner Tanya, who can’t sleep; Charles, a kooky vagrant who becomes a cult leader in the new world; and Zoe, a mute child they find who can also sleep. Those who can sleep will claim the world and rebuild it, but first they must survive the long die-off of those who come to resent and hate the sleepers.
In a nutshell, I loved the premise and enjoyed both the story and Barnes’s rich prose. There are a lot of great concepts here. The narrative is very clever, though the story tends to meander in tangents. Paul, the narrator, doesn’t seem particularly upset or terrified most of the time; since he’s the primary stand-in for the reader, the reader is left with a feeling of watching the apocalypse from the comfort of a cozy couch. The ending provided virtually no answers. I didn’t need to know why the insomnia occurred, but there were several LOST-like elements that went unexplained, and Paul didn’t seem to care much about finding those answers. One of the greatest literary elements of the apocalypse is the human search for meaning in tragedy, but that element went largely unexplored.
I’m realizing now this is sounding like a bad review, but it really isn’t. I liked the book. A lot. I just didn’t fall in love with it the way I could have.