Monday, 24 October 2016

Nod by Adrian Barnes | An Emotional Review

If you follow me on Twitter you probably already have a good idea about how I feel about this book. Immediately after finishing it I tweeted several times about the emotional wreck I had become. Since they are representative of my raw emotions, I thought the best way to start this review was by looking at them: at my initial reaction to a thoroughly heart breaking novel.


I have now calmed down enough to actually write that review, but the book remained in the airing cupboard until I had to take it out for photographs. Needless to say, I was emotionally compromised by the whole experience. I ended up on the phone to a friend for some time demanding that he distract me from my emotional distress, while eating mikado and drinking wine. It seemed to work, as my dreams that night weren't too soul destroying.

When I first picked up Nod I didn't notice the eye motif worked into the cover, but looking back it was a really great bit of design, and very pertinent to the plot. From the blurb I expected Nod to be about people struggling through a potentially apocalyptic event, but I was very wrong. The nature of that event meant that people weren't so much struggling through it as just existing. I should probably enlighten you as to what exactly I'm rambling about. One day the world wakes up and almost nobody has slept. The entire world has lain awake, tossing and turning, save for around one in ten thousand, who have all shared the same dream. The main character, Paul, is one of those who sleeps. There's no doubt in my mind that even before the events of Nod he was clearly not fully developed as an adult; he's emotionally immature and he clearly thinks very little of most people. 
Very early in the book we are told what is going to happen to most of the human race, as it becomes apparent that they will never sleep again. The long and short of it is, they will gradually go insane and then die. Despite knowing that this will happen, the reality of the entire world breaking down, of Paul's girlfriend Tanya slowly losing her mind in front of him while he continues to sleep, is extremely difficult to read. Despite Nod being a short book, I read it in two stages. I first put it down because I simply didn't want to read any more. I could see where the book was going, and much like how you walk past a homeless person in the street because you already gave your change away someone else, I turned my head away and refused to look. It felt wrong doing it, and guilt like how I feel walking around a city pervaded my thoughts like smoke. I knew what was coming in that book, and I just didn't want to think too hard about it because I knew it would send me into despair. It's the wilful ignorance that we use everyday to convince ourselves and others that the world is a good place. We know that frequently it isn't, but force ourselves to look away, because how would we ever get on with our own lives if we constantly dwelled upon the suffering of others? Nod made me stop and look at myself and the world and acknowledge that humanity is frequently terrifying. 

I had a similar, more muted reaction, to Lord of the Flies when I read it during school. I remember reaching the end before the rest of my English class and sitting in a slightly stunned silence for the rest of the lesson while everyone else stumbled through the book. I kept my eyes trained on the pages, praying that the teacher wouldn't ask me to read, because not only did I have no idea where they were up to, but I simply didn't feel like I could do it. My mind was blank but my eyes were open, because while a part of me wanted to deny that the events of Lord of the Flies could ever happen, a deeper part me knew that it could and does happen every day. We think that we as humans are above brutality, but the truth is that we are the masters of it, and have simply constructed society around it. When society is gone, we revert back to our instinctual savage selves.

Nod is an incredible work. It's not for you if you like your apocalypses explained, as we never get any kind of answers, or even anyone musing on the cause of the sleeplessness. Paul wonders briefly if the sleeping, unspeaking children who have escaped to the woods are the next stage of human evolution, but we get no answers from anywhere. Nod is about humanity without the restrictions of society, sanity or sleep, where reality is bent and warped into the nightmarish land of Nod. It's about cults and manipulation, about the oppressed rising to the top, and appeals to some of the deepest, darkest places of the human soul. I'm not okay after reading it.

Hopefully you've enjoyed this post, and if so keep an eye out as this is part of my Blogtober series where I post every day.  Check out my other posts from this month and see whether I actually manage to even think of 31 topics!


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