As awful as a night without sleep makes you feel the next morning, imagine what life would be like if you could never sleep again. If the night before was the last time you ever slipped into unconsciousness. If your mind and body never again got its eight—or even four or three or any—hours of necessary rejuvenation. Imagine that it’s not that you don’t need sleep—you do need sleep, you desperately do—and you long for sleep more than you’ve ever wanted anything in your life. The problem is that you can’t ever sleep again.
|Nod by Adrian Barnes|
That’s the premise of Adrian Barnes’ debut novel Nod: A world in which suddenly nobody sleeps anymore. Or almost nobody: One out of about every 10,000 people still sleep.
Nod takes place in Vancouver, Canada and follows the lives of Tanya and her husband Paul, an etymologist and writer, who is one of the rare Sleepers. Paul is the novel’s narrator. Early on in Nod, Tanya, an Awaker, desperate for sleep as anyone would be after several days of watching the moon make its slow crawl across the sky, demands sex from Paul, because she hopes that will get her to sleep. Tanya and Paul’s touching is coarse, brutal, and primitive, setting the stage for the rest of the novel.
In Barnes’ world, some children can sleep. As the Awakers’ psychosis grows, the Awakers come to believe that drinking the blood of these children will cure their terminal insomnia. The Awakers, banded together in savage, hierarchical packs, hunt the children.
Can the Sleepers protect these children? How can the Sleepers even protect themselves from desperate Awakers while they sleep? Will the Sleepers be able to ride out these terrifying four weeks until the Awakers, rapidly devolving into their Neanderthal progenitors, finally die?
Violent, frightening, textured, and dystopian are words that aptly describe the short-lived world that Barnes has created. Barnes’ writing is beautiful, but sometimes a little too good; the descriptions, both compelling and creepy, occasionally subtract from the story he’s trying to tell:
What else do I see? Packs of dogs, heads hovering low, roam the periphery of things. The long-standing human-canine alliance has been irretrievably severed, I’m sincerely sorry to report—the gnawed bones and matted chunks of hair scattered along the shores of Lost Lagoon testify to this. It’s sad, but then again those plump collies and German shepherds don’t seem too weighed down by nostalgia for bone-shaped vegan treats and belly rubs from the opposably-thumbed as they wander about, licking their chops.Nod is a must for every insomniac because it shows you that no matter how bad your night of no sleep is, things could be a lot worse. The usual warnings about not reading a scary novel in bed when you want to sleep don’t apply here. Nod is best enjoyed in the place that you want to sleep because you will eventually fall asleep—unlike the doomed souls in Adrian Barnes' novel.