What would happen if sleep ended? It’s a common complaint that there aren’t enough hours in the day, but what if suddenly there were? What if there was all the time in the world? This is a vision Barnes explores in his debut novel Nod. Nod is set in Vancouver in the near future where the populace wakes one morning to find that apart from a few no one has slept the previous night. The ones who have, mainly children and our narrator Paul, share a similar dream featuring a golden light. The story follows Paul’s life over twenty four days in this new terrifying world of Nod as those afflicted with insomnia begin their descent into psychosis and those previously on the fringes of society take control.
Paul is an etymologist working on a manuscript entitled ‘Nod’, a word he has taken from Genesis (‘And Cain went out from the face of the Lorde and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east syde of Eden’) and also the fabled land of children’s sleep. As the world around him rapidly deteriorates his old acquaintance Charles, a loner, seizes Paul’s manuscript and uses it as a map to explain this dark new world to the Awakened, with Paul as a prophet at the centre of it. As the character’s minds and bodies start to unravel following days and days without sleep Barnes depicts the rise of a new religion to explain the unexplainable and Nodgod is born. Barnes handles this well without going too far with it so that it is believable; after all these sleep deprived characters are not capable of intense philosophy.
Each of the novel’s chapter headings is taken from Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable; as the world of Nod develops, language reverts to words long since obsolete and the contrast between the new world order and how it grips to the language of the past is nicely done.
This is a short novel at two hundred pages, but it doesn’t feel like it. The text is dense in the sense that each word works hard and there’s no padding or fluff, nothing extraneous and that makes it satisfying to read. This is the work of a writer in control of language and one with an expansive imagination. Detail is everything when one is describing the collapse of society. One image I particularly liked:
“Then at 8:01 it hit me. Tanya and I were on our own. The network of threads binding us to family and friends had been torn down. Suddenly distance became real, probably for the first time in our lives. Toronto was infinitely distant and even the condos of friends across English Bay seemed impossibly far away.”
Any Cop?: This is a skilfully crafted debut novel from a man whose clarity of thought and imaginative vision have conjured a dystopian future with terrifying detail.