Wednesday 22 May 2013


Adrian Barnes, 2012
(May 2013)

Tone and style are perhaps the most important aspects of any work of literature written primarily to be enjoyed. They can make it fly or kill it stone dead. They are also the most hard to define aspects, the most subjective, the most personal. I think that while it is sometimes possible to definitively say, ‘This is good writing,’ or, ‘This is bad,’ in the majority of instances it all hinges around personal taste.

Nod is written in a style which reminds me a little of what I like to imagine I’m doing on this blog: discursive and rambling, arch and sarcastic, with a good degree of knowing asides to camera and cultural references from the present day and antiquity dotted throughout. So as you may suppose, I veered wildly between really enjoying it and finding it annoying as all fuck. If I ever had to spend time with a clone of myself I suspect I’d piss myself off royally.

But what (hopefully) works in short doses on a blog is hard to stretch over an entire novel, for all that this one barely manages to scrape into a double century of pages. It’s not helped by the fact that Paul, our narrator and protagonist, is a bit of a dick. A misanthropic dick, at that.

It’s the zombie apocalypse, basically, except that instead of a spreading plague of the undead you get animalistic hordes of the very, very tired. No-one in the world can sleep, and things go to shit faster than Red Bull’s profit margin. A few people are able to get a decent night’s kip though, of whom Paul is one, and he leads us through another fairly standard ‘fall of civilization’ narrative. He’s a poor choice for a leading man, to be honest. He doesn’t really care about other people and tells us as much several times. Even his long-term girlfriend’s rapid decline seems oddly unaffecting, like he really doesn’t give much of a shit either way as she and the world around them fall to pieces.

And if the central character doesn’t seem to care, why should the reader? Fifty pages is generally the point at which I’ll lose patience with a book. However, because this book is so short fifty pages represents a quarter of the way, and if you’ve come that far it’s not so much of a commitment to finish it off. If this had been longer I think I’d have given up on it entirely; as I said, when the style hit the spot it really worked for me but too often it simply didn’t. By page 90 something resembling a plot is threatening to occur, but it’s a threat that’s quickly averted and towards the end you find yourself looking back at the prologue and realizing that all the intervening chapters have moved the story on not a jot.

I’m also pretty sure that aircraft carriers and destroyers are different types of warship and that neither carry nuclear missiles. And I know full well that it wasn’t Samuel L. Jackson’s character who threatened to “get medieval on your ass” in Pulp Fiction. I guess I can forgive that though because, as with zombie apocalypse stories, they all look the same, don’t they?


  1. " If I ever had to spend time with a clone of myself I suspect I’d piss myself off royally."

    This sounds like the failed experiment known as my second marriage...

    1. Well, looks like you got a fairly reliable punchline out if it, if nothing else ;)

  2. Girl at bottom right of cover. That's the shit that gives kids nightmares...adults sometimes too.

    Seems like a proxy zombie/sheeple war is already under way sans the clinical diagnosis and bad make-up.

    1. Too right about the nightmares. In real life the book's bigger and you're closer so it's harder to pick out the patterns. It really does just looks like a lot of smoke. I thought it was merely a fairly poor cover for a fairly poor book. It wasn't until I was putting this post together that I realised there were faces in it, and fists, and skulls, and they'd been staring at me the whole time. Not a little freaky, I'll willingly admit.