Sunday, April 16, 2017

Book Review: Nod by Adrian Barnes

Nod by Adrian Barnes

Paperback, 261 pages

Published September 1st 2015 by Titan Books (first published November 2012)

Literary Awards:

Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominee for Best Novel (2013)

One of my favorite sub-genres of fiction skirts both science fiction and horror but comes down mostly in the horror camp. It is the odd high concept end of the world novel. Nod is one of these novels that hinges on a excellent concept.

Global insomnia, seen through the eyes of our two main characters Paul and Tanya. Paul is one of the few who can still sleep.Tanya is with the majority of our species struggling to sleep. As the days drag on society starts crumble. Food is not being made, restaurants are not opening, the basic functions are coming slowly to a halt. The premise comes built with a excellent ticking time bomb built in. How many days before you become ill? How many before you lose your sanity? In the vacuum new religions pop up and not surprising those desperate for sleep that they would look to the sleepers for answers. Paul becomes a reluctant prophet.

Adrian Barnes is a great writer but I am not sure he is as strong of a pure story-teller. Maybe that is not fair but I think writing horror it is good to have certain finely tuned techniques. I just found myself feeling through-out the story that we were missing moments of suspense and dramatic tension. In the back of the Titan edition that I read included a interview with Barnes so I consider this information fair game for the review. The author makes clear that he is not a genre writer. Which is fine, lots of non-genre authors have written excellent pieces of science fiction horror from Cormac Mcarthy's The Road to Mary Doria Russel's The Sparrow there are great examples.

In this case Barnes has a neat concept, interesting characters, well written and involving prose. So there is plenty to like the problem I had with the book is that I wanted more of the tension building between Tanya and Paul for example. I thought about moment where he might wake up and find her not in bed in the early days. Maybe chapters devoted to her tension listening to him snore, watching him dream when she was tortured by the inability to sleep. I think a genre author who knows the field better might not miss the idea of how tense it would be to sleep 5 or 6 days in knowing the world was filled with people losing their minds not sleeping near by. Barnes did work well with the ticking clock of sanity but even that could have gotten more targeted attention.

Last in the story there is a chapter that takes place on a U.S. naval vessel that is a classic example of telling, meaning events took place outside of the narrative. Technical things aside I think the novel has alot of interesting things to to say about life, death and our culture. Paul is very outspoken character and his eye into the end is interesting one. Even if I though I was critical of this novel I read it fast and there is no greater compliment I can give a book. As for high concept apocalypse you will see many such titles on my best of the year blog posts heading back years now. Novels like Tim Lebbon's The Silence and M.R. Carey's The Girl with All the Gifts are strong examples of this kind of novel. Both were written with incredible skill. Going back a little farther the poetic example of John Shirley's The Other End and his gonzo end of the world novel Demons.

I bring up those other examples because they all balance high concept with excellent plotting and construction. Nod was good read, one I was glad to have. Those interested high concept end of the world novels should add them to their list. As much as I enjoyed it I could not call it a masterpiece. Shout-out to my co-worker Andrea for lending me the book. Clearly she has eye more my taste in books!

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