Review: Nothing By Janne Teller

One of our fabulous Young Curator’s, Roseanna, has recently read Nothing by Danish author Janne Teller and has written a review for us:

Nothing, by Janne Teller, is about a boy of around age 14 called Pierre Anthon. When Pierre decides that ‘nothing is worth doing because nothing means anything anyway’ he leaves his classroom, climbs a plum tree, and stays there. When his classmates cannot convince Pierre to come down they decide to prove to him that there is a meaning to life by giving up things of importance. The pile is started with a lifetime’s collection of Dungeons & Dragons books, a fishing rod, a pair of green sandals, a pet hamster, but as they collect these things in a ‘heap of meaning’ in an abandoned sawmill, it soon becomes obvious that each person cannot give up what is most meaningful, so they begin to decide for one another what the others must give up. As the sacrifices become more extreme and events begin to take a dark turn the students grow increasingly desperate to get Pierre down, to prove to him the meaning. But what if, after all these sacrifices, the pile is still not meaningful enough to bring Pierre Anthon down?

This book was written in first person and narrated by Agnes, a friend of Pierre’s. At first I thought Agnes was a boy because of the way her character portrayed the story but as the story unravelled it became more evident that she was in fact a girl. I liked the story being written from Agnes’ point of view as it meant we could experience her emotions and view of the events and see her character develop as the book goes on.
I did find the author’s style of writing quite unusual though and the layout of the book. I thought although it was a very simple layout it was extremely effective and worked very well: lines dividing the pages, borders. Frequently there is just one sentence per page, often towards the end of a chapter or when a line has a big impact. This works well as it gives you time to think about what’s going on in the story and to let it all sink in as it is quite hard-hitting. The author also uses triplets quite often. For example, ‘Scared. More scared. Most scared’. And regularly in that style, progressing in form of positive adjectives, to comparative and then superlative. I thought this was an interesting style and very rhythmic.

The story is set in Denmark in a fictional place called Tæring meaning to gradually consume, corrode or eat through. This links in with the story and so is important to be kept in Danish and not translated like the rest of the book. I think the definition of Tæring is a description of Pierre as the book progresses; slowly eating through the others minds, as he tries to convince them that there is no meaning to life.

I thought the plot of the book was very fascinating and so that is what drew me to this book however it is quite gruesome and escalates very quickly. The children soon start sacrificing things that are very extreme and it soon spirals out of control. The book is very gripping and addictive; it had me gasping out loud on several occasions; I was shocked by the sacrifices and the results.

Without giving anything away, the ending is very tragic but almost satisfying. On the other hand I thought it was perhaps a bit quick, rushed maybe. It all happens so fast you don’t really have time to think about it until afterwards when it haunts your every thought. This book will stay with you forever; a novel about everything…and nothing. This book is like no other book I’ve read. It is controversial, shocking and thought-provoking. I would recommend this to teenagers and adults who like to question our world and the meaning of life.

If you are interested in this book or author, Janne Teller will be attending the festival on Saturday the 5th of October for a joint event with author Alexia Casale. Book now.

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