REVIEW: Nothing written by Janne Teller and translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken

Danish author, Janne Teller has written a book that’s provocative in its ideas and philosophy. The story is self-described as a modern day Lord of the Flies.Nothing” is a psychologically disturbing story set in Denmark, in a fictional place called “Tæring” which is said to be a verb that means “to corrode or eat through.” The novel is about a group of seventh graders searching for the meaning of life after a class mate of theirs declares that life has no meaning. The narrative is told in first person through Agnes. The premise begins with Pierre Anthon leaving school, after stating to everyone “nothing matters!” Everyday he sits up in the plum tree, taunting to his classmates that “nothing’s worth the bother!”

Nothing matters. I have known that for a long time. So nothing is worth doing. I just realized that.

This statement insidiously works its way into the minds of the other students. Some how, they feel, that they must counter his statements and PROVE to Pierre that life does have meaning. The plot starts off innocently enough with the students at first trying to ignore Pierre’s taunts that life is worthless, love means nothing, etc while sitting in his plum tree that’s located on their route to school everyday. Eventually, the students decide to get together and devise a plan to meet secretly at an old unused sawmill on the outskirts of town. The goal is to contribute something to sacrifice that has meaning to each of them. Nothing is worth sacrificing if it doesn’t have meaning, right?

Each student gets to decide what the other student must sacrifice and contribute to what they call the “heap of meaning” that they’ve started in an abandoned old sawmill. The students start off small but it doesn’t take long before the sacrifices get more sinister and the students begin to get deceptive and cunning. This is where other readers begin to describe the story as being “disturbing” and “macabre” as the plan begins to morph into something quite troubling as it goes completely awry.

I had a hard time getting into the story at first and had to consult with another reader for encouragement. I found Agnes, our narrator somewhat distant and cold. While each student has their breaking point after they’re asked to sacrifice something that means a lot to them, they all seem so calm and matter of fact as the sacrifices escalate into craziness. Once I knew where the story was headed though, the “trainwreck” that was about to commence, I couldn’t stop reading after that and it didn’t disappointment.

Nothing has won various awards for excellence in teen literature in Denmark. The translation was fine even though there were a few hiccups. Danish names have been altered for the American tongue according to the translator’s notes but the characterization(s) remain untouched. Haven’t heard much about the book in the U.S. and probably wouldn’t have read it if Trisha hadn’t mentioned it often or reviewed it at her blog. Nothing is an interesting read that may horrify you. Some may find it a bit much to take considering that the kids parents are mostly absent in here and their behavior at school alerts no one. Anyway, I’m glad to have finally finished this book. Do I recommend this to anyone? Sure, if you’re a fan of such stories as these.

Admittedly, some of Pierre’s taunts are thought-provoking. Here’s one I’ve bookmarked:

“Chimpanzees have almost exactly the same brain DNA as us,” he’d hollered the day before and started swinging around in the branches of the plum tree. “There’s nothing the least special about being human.” And this morning he’d said, “There are six billion people on Earth. Way too many! But in the year of 2025 there’ll be eight and half billion. The best thing we can do for the future of the world is die!”

What to grade this book? It’s not for everybody and the story didn’t pick up for me until I was several chapters in. The novel did pick up and race along a bit after but still, I’d give this book a B. I’ve glanced over the reviews from other readers on Amazon and agree that this book is for older, mature teens. The “mob mentality” in here is quite chilling. Plus, there’s just a lot of provocative ideas in here that parental guidance is necessary for teens younger than 16. If you’re in the mood for something different and shocking, then read this book. Could I read this again? Maybe not.

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One Response to REVIEW: Nothing written by Janne Teller and translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken

  1. janicu says:

    Whoa, this one sounds like a hard one to get through. I think I’d have to be in a special sort of mood to pick it up.

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