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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Posts Tagged ‘Adrian Barnes

Thank You for the Cancer

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20170510_184516Writerly wisdom states that the best possible outcome of a writing course is to find a person who will become a critical reader of your work in its early stages, someone on your wavelength. I found that person in Adrian Barnes, while we were doing an online MA in Creative Writing. He lived in British Columbia, I was living in the Sultanate of Oman, but we became closer than the screen.

Adrian had already written several self-published novels and a volume of poetry. His “Satan a la Mode” – a Carrollian book of word-play, farce and philosophy – was completed and would later (in 2012) be published with illustrations by Yuliya Kashapova. While our course lasted he was working on a wonderful (sadly still-unpublished) novel called “Neverhasbeen.” He also parented his sons, taught college students, started several local newspapers, wrote songs, and sang and played the guitar.

In 2012 he published “Nod”, which is literary science fiction, an intellectual treatment of a sleepless apocalypse. Readers recognised its strength, and the book took off. There’s even talk of a TV version. Adrian’s writing career seemed truly underway.

Then one day he was driving to visit a friend in the US, listening to James Brown on the stereo, and realised he could only hear the great man’s voice, not the backing music. He went for tests, and was told he had a brain tumour, or more precisely, a Glioblastoma Multiforme, with a kill rate of over 99%.

He underwent an operation to cut the thing out. He woke up in pain and confusion to be told the operation had been unsuccessful. Thereafter he was unable to read and found writing almost impossible. Time bewildered him.

I’m having trouble with words and numbers – and getting more and more heavy. But, weird though this may sound, I am beginning to wonder if it’s actually a good thing.

I can’t believe in words and numbers. Instead I am in the midst of reality, and what I see is love. Now that sounds kind of hippie-like, but it’s true (the hippies got a lot right, though we love to mock them). I see love and joy, and things I want to do – or not do – and they don’t have a lot to do with words and numbers.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

December 20, 2017 at 6:19 pm

Posted in Meditation

Tagged with

Nod

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Books which are published by small publishing houses are rarely reviewed by big newspapers, and this is a shame, because small publishing houses often publish excellent work. One example is “The Madman of Freedom Square” by the brilliant Hassan Blasim, published by Comma Press. Another is “Nod”, by Adrian Barnes.

The plot is a grand metaphor worthy of Jose Saramago. For no apparent reason (though people scramble for political and spiritual explanations) people stop sleeping. Only about one in ten thousand people are spared the insomnia plague, and these quickly become victims of an anti-sleeper mass frenzy. The Awakened, as they become known, suffer gradual degeneration through irritability and clumsiness, detachment and madness, to death. Our narrator, a writer of obscure books on obscure words and phrases, is one of the remaining sleepers. Being an expert on words, he reminds us that ‘Nod’ has two somewhat contradictory meanings – both the pleasant sleepy land we send children to, and the land of Nod, the barren desolation to which God sent Cain. The narrator has to watch as his long-term girlfriend and just about everyone else around him degenerate.

If this is science fiction, it’s the literary and philosophical end of the genre, Ray Bradbury or Kafka territory. With a few inversions, Barnes’s nightmare is not so different from this ordinary sleeping world. A former social outcast discovers leadership qualities and his own religion, and sets the people to useless work. Silent children hide in parks. The experience of watching someone you love stop talking to you, stop seeing you, and finally turn into an incomprehensible monster, will be familiar to many people who’ve suffered a relationship breakdown.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 2, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Posted in book review

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