Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: Nothing by Janne Teller

Nothing by Janne Teller

Pages: 227
Publisher: Atheneum
Published: February 9th, 2010
IBSN: 9781416985792

Pierre Anthon left school the day he found out that it was not worth doing anything as nothing mattered anyhow. The rest of us stayed behind. And even though the teachers carefully cleared up after Pierre Anthon in the class room as well as in our heads, a bit of Pierre Anthon remained within us. Perhaps this is why things later happened the way they did... 

Thus begins the story of Pierre Anthon, a thirteen year old boy, who leaves school to sit in a plum tree and train for becoming part of nothing. "Everything begins just in order to end. The moment you were born you began to die, and that goes for everything else as well." Pierre Anthon shouts and continues: "The whole thing is just one immense play which is about pretending and about being best at exactly that."

Scared at the prospects that Pierre Anthon throws at them together with the ripening plums, his seventh grade class mates set out on a desperate quest for the meaning of life. This involves a closed saw mill, green sandals, a yellow bicycle, a pair of boxing gloves, the Danish flag, the hamster Oscarlittle, a Jesus statue stolen from the church, little Ingrid’s crutches, six blue ponytails, a prayer rug, the coffin with Elise’s little brother, the head of the dog Cindarella, fame and a meaning found and lost.

[Synopsis by Goodreads]

Nothing is a twisted, insightful, and at times sickening ride of a novel. Translated from Danish, its premise is unique and thought-provoking. After Pierre-Anthon resolves that nothing matters and climbs up into a plum tree and stays there, his classmates set out to prove to him that there is meaning.

So his classmates start to compile a pile of things that mean something to them, with what each person puts in the pile dictated by the person before them. Soon, allocating things to the pile feels less related to meaning and more to revenge. "You want me to put my green sandals in the pile? Fine. Put your pet hamster in!"

Then the sacrifices become almost macabre, the last one especially. But even this felt realistic. The character's actions were believable and justified, and I liked how the author didn't try to make her characters unnaturally good. Let's face it: Bruno Mars won't catch a grenade for his girlfriend, and Edward wouldn't kill himself if he thought Bella was dead (you know, if they were real). People aren't inherently self-sacrificing and good. I really liked how this book happily demonstrated that.

The writing style was superb, the foreign-ness of it clear, even with the translation. I can't describe it and do it justice, so I'll just share with you my favorite quote from it:

"And although we'd sworn we'd never become like them, that was exactly what was happening. We weren't even fifteen yet.
Thirteen, fourteen, adult, dead."
It was told from first person perspective, but our narrator is more a background character than the main one. We know little more about her than her name. This book is definitely more plot-driven than character-driven. The plot is slow and suspenseful. I was constantly speed reading trying to figure out how this is going to end, because I knew it couldn't end well.

I can't tell you whether the ending was happy or sad, because even I don't know that, a day after finishing it. It's, like a lot of the book, open to interpretation. All I can really ascertain is that it was very deep and intense.

I give Nothing a 6 out of 5. A definite new favorite of mine.