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Night Work is the ultimate "what if" novel. One day, Jonas wakes up in Vienna to discover that everyone is missing. There is no cataclysmic event that would provide an explanation for this—people are simply gone, along with all other animals (save for bacteria; food still rots). Jonas methodically searches for any signs of other people, to no avail. He leaves clues on pub chalkboards, diligently leaving a trail of his whereabouts, affixing a giant banner that had on it a nonsense phrase from a dream to a revolving restaurant tower. He performs some of the usual "what if I were the only person alive" trappings—he traipses around with a shotgun; he goes into famous landmarks and political offices unimpeded; he acquires a really fast car and zips around the trafficless town. But no matter how hard he looks, no answers present themselves.

When the novel really starts to take off—in more of an eerie slow burn than a fevered acceleration—is when Jonas starts to record the silent world around him; particularly himself when he sleeps. This is where he discovers that there is, in fact, a second person inhabiting Vienna: the Sleeper. He soon discovers, after rigging cameras that become more and more elaborate as the novel progresses, that his sleeping self has a life of his own:

The Sleeper was sitting upright on the edge of the bed. Motionless, supporting himself on his hands. He seemed to be staring at the camera. The lighting wasn't strong enough to reveal the eyes in the midst of the black material.

He just sat there. Unmoving.

In some sinister, unspoken manner, his rigid pose conveyed scorn and defiance. It was a silent challenge. (p. 160)

Night Work's philosophical underpinnings are immediately discernable, and it never strays from these clear lines of sight. There is no "gotcha" moment. Because of this, the novel is intellectually bracing and its limpid, declarative prose becomes relentless. With that said, I wished at times that Night Work breathed a little in between the lines of its rigid, austere geometry [1]

This is not to say that the novel is affectless, or devoid of emotion—far from it. Jonas himself, although seemingly a bit of a bland everyman at the start, soon opens up as he tries to puzzle through the mystery around him, and to process more fully his experiences in the empty landscape. The absence of everyone he ever knew forces him to inquire into the nature of his memories, and how they are rooted in specific places. He goes to places from his childhood, where he spent summer vacations with his family; he roots through his parents' basement, hunting for memories; he goes on a long and harrowing journey to Scotland, through the Channel Tunnel, to find any traces of his girlfriend Marie. In his constant solitude, Jonas achieves an almost waking meditative state, where his perceptions about the nature of time and the constant flux of his own being are never compromised.

The Sleeper, though, is also uncompromising, and starts to assert more control over Jonas. At night, the Sleeper increasingly begins to impede Jonas's efforts in England, and he truly begins to live two lives, only one of which he has conscious access to. These are the dark depths that Jonas finds himself in—during daylight he is privy to an almost sublime (albeit paranoid) sense of free will, to contemplate the world "as it is," yet at night his will is wrenched away from him, and his body is at the mercy of whatever subconscious machinations the Sleeper deems necessary. This conflict between Jonas and the Sleeper drives Night Work into the deeply unsettling territory of an existential crisis unadulterated by other human relationships.

And although Glavinic, perhaps inevitably, paints himself into a corner with the novel's unwavering premises, I would still say that Night Work succeeds, because it thinks to take the reader on that journey in the first place. It is a delicate balancing act to make a novel about one person and one person alone (it could be argued) exciting, but Glavinic imbues in Jonas our own everyday hopes and fears, our loneliness and desire to connect with other human beings.

In that, the novel is truly awake.

[1] Of course, there were moments in the novel that I found genuinely perplexing, which I assumed to be seamless and logical data points that I was just missing, rather than loose edges. So, with the requisite spoiler disclaimer: What exactly was the inflatable doll doing within the walls of his bedroom? Why did it appear that someone had been in the hotel lobby between the first and second time he entered there? And the video camera image with his family near the end—was he simply losing it at that point? I leave this to other readers of this novel, much like Jonas left the banner attached to the revolving restaurant.

Alan DeNiro is the author of the short story collection Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead and two poetry chapbooks, The Black Hare and Atari Ecologues. Some of his work can be found in the Strange Horizons archives.



Anya Johanna DeNiro is the author of City of a Thousand Feelings (Aqueduct Press, 2020). Her short fiction has recently appeared in DIAGRAM, Catapult, and Shimmer.
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