Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nothing by Janne Teller

Nothing is the Lord of the Flies for the 21st century

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 and ... (from GoodReads)

This book was extremely disturbing! I wanted to read Nothing because everyone has been hailing it as a new classic and I wanted to see what it would be like. I enjoyed the novel for the most part, though I think some of the meaning was lost through the translation.

The summary gives the reader a pretty good idea what the kids give up for the "pile of meaning." Since they are trying to prove to Pierre that life does have meaning, they decide to donate things that are meaningful to them. However, you don't get to pick what you donate, someone else does. And as each classmate tries to up the ante, the items become more gruesome. I mean, I don't know if this was a slippery slope situation or if these kids were sick, but I was so surprised that no one stood up and said "Let's not dig up a dead baby." And, honestly, that wasn't even the worst of it. I actually thought Nothing was more a commentary on peer pressure than nihilism. You could tell some of the kids were uncomfortable with some of the donations but didn't want to incur the wrath of some of the more aggressive classmates.

As for the writing, it was really easy reading. Students in middle school could definitely read this, though they might not want to based on the subject matter. However, I didn't really understand the author's purpose in Nothing. After reading it, I still don't know if she was advocating that life had meaning or not. That might just be me not paying attention enough but I think a factor was the translation. I was just confused because I don't really know what the point of the story was.

I think I would have liked Nothing a little better if I knew what the author's intent was. I didn't care if I agreed with it or not, but I just feel left in the dark. If you've read this, what are your thoughts?

Rating: 6 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from library.

2010/Atheneum/227 pages.


Anonymous said...

I read Nothing and it was definitely a riveting book. I was shocked at how quickly the Heap of Meaning got out of control. The severity of each donation to the heap became more and more horrendous. It was a brilliant book that brought out strong emotions-- even if it was revulsion. I just felt bad for the seventh graders who gave away unforgivable things... like Sophies virginity or the boys finger. How could such innocent kids do such things?
=) Thanks, bigreader_05

Frida said...

I read the novel in danish (I'm a dane..), and it is a fantastic book! Right now, I'm writing a text analysis, and i have Jane Teller's thought about the book in the analysis... But.. read it if you haven't! :-)