Nothing by Janne Teller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Note: If you read the spoilers, they do give away EVERYTHING, including the ending.
It seems every review of this has 1 star or 5 stars, so I guess you'd call it a 'love it or hate it' book. I loved it. It was reminiscent of Lord of the Flies for me. In Nothing, a group of kids go to further and further lengths to prove to a classmate that life does indeed have meaning. It's like a modern-day existential Lord of the Flies, where they aren't fighting for dominance and survival, but for meaning, for proof that life isn't just a fraud, for survival not of their physical selves but of their entire belief system.
The group of twelve to thirteen-year-olds begins by giving up little things that have meaning for them to show that something in life does have meaning. The author does a wonderful job of making each request seem unfair as they escalate, so that at first, you think it's unfair for a girl to give up a pair of green sandals, and by the end, you can't believe how petty it was that she only had to give up her shoes and complained about it. As the book progresses, you are dragged along at a steady pace, more and more shocked and horrified by each request as the group members push each other to new and cruel limits to see how far they can go, to make the next person give up more than the person before had to. There were a few times when I guessed what was coming. (view spoiler)[ Such as when they killed Cinderella. I knew from the moment the dog peed on the cross that Holy Carl would get his revenge. I also sort of guessed the virginity thing, although not as far in advance. And let me just say in this spoiler, that part was the most disturbing of the book. Everyone else was promised they would get back what they gave up, so I didn't see how everyone went along with her having to give up her virginity. And the fact that she had to do it with 4 boys looking on was the most appalling of all. I didn't feel very sorry for the boy losing his finger at the end, though. I was sort of cheering them on. Why didn't Sophia ask for that right after the rape? (hide spoiler)]
Everyone is saying this is a book about the meaning of life, but that wasn't the real message I took from it. If anything, this book was more about bullying and conformity and peer pressure. A few reviews have argued that Agnes is a weak and unlikeabale main character, but I didn't find her to be so. The book needed a point of view, so the author chose a random participant. She wasn't the best or the worst. She was just anyone, which fit perfectly with the story. That it could be just anyone, average in every way. She speaks up sometimes, but no more than anyone else. She's no better or worse than the others. She has qualms about the escalating events, but still goes along with the group, scared of speaking out, not only because she might get beaten up like some of the others, but because they might turn on her. I found the book gripping, horrifying, and possibly a bit damaging to my psyche. I recommend it to anyone who likes a good, deep read that doesn't drag on, but make sure you can handle a little grit in your peaches and cream.
The only part of the book that let me down was the ending, which was a bit abrupt for me, or just didn't feel really complete. (view spoiler)[ And I can see how some people would be angry that the kids are never held accountable for all they've done, including the murder. You would think someone would notice the body had been beaten to death before being burned, right? (hide spoiler)]
The translation is not always smooth, and can be awkward at times, but the writing was still lovely. When I picked up the audiobook, I didn't realize it was a translation, and listening to it, I thought it might have been written in verse. When I found out it was a translation, the strange style made more sense.
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