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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Janne Teller
Age Range: 14+
“Nothing matters. From the moment you are born, you start to die … “so says Pierre Anthon when he decides that life has no meaning. He leaves his classroom, climbs a plum tree and refuses to come down. Instead he taunts his classmates about the utter meaningless of life and pelts them with unripe plums.`“It’s all a waste of time”, he yelled one day. “Everything begins only to end”.’
The story is set in Denmark in a fictional place called Tæring, meaning to gradually consume, corrode or eat through. The narrator, 14-year-old Agnes tells the story of how she and her friends decide to try and prove Pierre Anthon wrong by creating a pile of their most treasured possessions. This ‘heap of meaning’ kept in an abandoned sawmill, included a lifetime’s collection of Dungeons & Dragons books, green wedge sandals, Oscarlittle a pet hamster, a fishing rod and a snake in formaldehyde. But as the mound of possessions grows the teenagers realise that they cannot give up the things that mean the most to them and so each classmate must suggest what the next person should give up. The sacrifices become more and more extreme and events take a disturbingly dark turn escalating quickly as the teenagers become increasingly desperate to get Pierre Anthon down from the plum tree.
Nothing is a bold work by Danish author Janne Teller and is definitely not a novel for the faint-hearted. Although the subject of the meaning of life is interesting and challenging, and will certainly resonate with teenagers, some of the extremes to which they go are truly shocking, even for adults. The idea behind the book is clever, especially the outcome: the adults try hard to understand the ‘heap of meaning’, what the children have done and the lengths to which they have gone to create it. When the pile of possessions is deemed to be ‘art’, the ultimate irony is that it is bought by a museum to be put on display, showing that none of the adults have any understanding of why the pile was created in the first place.
Teller’s style of writing is unusual. It’s lyrical tone, (beautifully translated by Aitkens), is atmospheric and there are wonderful descriptions and philosophical wonderings – ‘The door smiled. It was the first time I’d seen it like that. Pierre Anthon left the door ajar like a grinning abyss …” “We were all so modern and well-versed in life and busy in the world that we knew that everything was more about how it appeared than how it was”. The layout is unusual too; with lines in the borders dividing the pages and sometimes just one sentence on a page making it hard-hitting and full of impact.
Nothing is a brave, startlingly and thought-provoking novel with some very gruesome, distressing elements. The story is bleak with a tragic ending that is as haunting as it is controversial.