Nod by Adrian Barnes

Let me start by explaining that in the last year reading for pleasure has taken a back seat, much like the blog. Teacher training was very demanding and it took a really large proportion of my time, but since then I am trying to get my life back in order and it all starts with getting back into reading.

So I started with Adrian Barnes’ debut novel, Nod.

Prepare for spoilers!

“But as it turns out, love doesn’t set us free—love keeps standing outside the jail on an endless candlelight vigil. So love? Yes, love was pain as well. Especially love.”
― Adrian BarnesNod

Nod follows the story of Paul and his partner, Tanya, as they face a sleepless epidemic that is killing society as they know it. Barnes chooses this post-apocalyptic setting to discuss the human condition at its worse, dying, scared and resentful. Starting with Paul, a character that is difficult to love at first, he seems arrogant in his own knowledge and looks down on characters like Charles that are victims of society and stigmatized. He belittles people and even speaks of his own novel as something that only those of any intellect with be able to indulge on. The reader is definitely lead to hate him at first, or at least I know I did, until I suddenly realised that all of us are capable of such arrogance. Kindness does not exist in Nod, and this truly reflects how kindness is lacking in this day and age. Words have such power, especially kind words. Paul evolves to become the compassionate, heroic character we all want to love, he struggles through it, wanting sometimes to take the easy route, but he knows deep inside that what he is seeing is the disgraced humans that are becoming merely shadows of their former selves, incapable of sentiment or logic. We grow to love Paul and then we lose him.

Tanya and Charles were two brilliant characters, both anti-heroes/villains in their own right. Tanya always felt like a forcibly kind and correct woman, after the sleepless night her true colours begin to show themselves. Her lack of rest uncovers the resentment she felt for Paul for so long, her dislike of him and as much as we begin to hate her, we do feel for the character. How many people have stayed in relationships that do not work? How many have endured little habits in their partners that they hate? Barnes captured in Tanya a truth that so many live, and in her decay we were able to see just how toxic that dependency becomes.

Barnes’ Charles really stole the show. His character is set up as a destitute man who rambles endlessly about nonsensical things. Tanya and Paul initially mock him and he is their jester in a way, adding lightness to their otherwise weighed down relationship and daily lives. However, Charles’ rough life prepares him for the dystopian Toronto, in a world where nothing makes sense, his illogical logic makes perfect sense. He finds Paul’s book, and like men interpreted hieroglyphs for a glimpse of its past, Charles sees in Paul’s book what the future can be. He guides the lost souls of the world into some sort of purpose, he gives them something to believe in and structure in an otherwise disorderly society. The dog has become a wolf, and Charles leads his pack ferociously, tearing anything down and ripping anything apart that might interfere with his plans. Barnes embodies in Charles the possibly psychotic nature in all of us who are dropped by society, abandoned and left without any sort of kindness, love or support.

If these three characters aren’t enough to make you want to read the novel, Barnes’ final goodbye is more than enough to tug at your heart strings. After realising that this would be both the author’s debut and final novel, it suddenly becomes more of a commentary on his own life and attitude towards the world. He talks about his cynicism and how he wishes he had seen the world differently, love differently and not closed himself off from feeling joy. Barnes gave us Paul, as the man he wishes he would have turned into eventually, and as Paul breathed his final farewell and dreamt of only the wonderful things in life, Barnes forgave himself and too thought only of all the good.

Nod is available to purchase on Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles – at least as I have seen! – Grab this fantastic, eye opening novel on the state of humanity, and open yourself up to a little kindness and joy.

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