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Little Nothing: Book summary and reviews of Little Nothing by Marisa Silver

Little Nothing

by Marisa Silver

Little Nothing by Marisa Silver X
Little Nothing by Marisa Silver
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Book Summary

A stunning, provocative new novel from New York Times bestselling author Marisa Silver, Little Nothing is the story of a girl, scorned for her physical deformity, whose passion and salvation lie in her otherworldly ability to transform herself and the world around her.

In an unnamed country at the beginning of the last century, a child called Pavla is born to peasant parents. Her arrival, fervently anticipated and conceived in part by gypsy tonics and archaic prescriptions, stuns her parents and brings outrage and scorn from her community. Pavla has been born a dwarf, beautiful in face, but as the years pass, she grows no farther than the edge of her crib. When her parents turn to the treatments of a local charlatan, his terrifying cure opens the floodgates of persecution for Pavla.

Little Nothing unfolds across a lifetime of unimaginable, magical transformation in and out of human form, as an outcast girl becomes a hunted woman whose ultimate survival depends on the most startling transfiguration of them all.  Woven throughout is the journey of Danilo, the young man entranced by Pavla, obsessed only with protecting her. Part allegory about the shifting nature of being, part subversive fairy tale of love in all its uncanny guises, Little Nothing spans the beginning of a new century, the disintegration of ancient superstitions, and the adoption of industry and invention.

With a cast of remarkable characters, a wholly original story, and extraordinary, page-turning prose, Marisa Silver delivers a novel of sheer electricity.

Hardcover & ebook published 2016. Paperback published August 2017.

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Little Nothing:

At what point did you realize Markus's true nature?
I realized who Markus really is when Danilo heard the "howling" of the childrens' nightmares. Danilo's attraction to the boy and the amazing hearing and hunting skills Markus exhibited on their journey confirmed that suspicion. - bill and jackie

Danilo asks Pavla what she'd like people to say to her. How would you respond to that question? Is there something you'd like people to ask you or say to you?
I don't particularly have anything that I'd like for people to ask me or say to me but I do like it when people tell me that they learned something new from me. It makes me feel as if the time spent together wasn't a waste or boring because something... - PiperUp

Do you agree with Pavla that "love is filled with lies"?
I agree with a lot of the previous posts. To say love is a lie doesn't make as much sense as to say our expectations of love are often unrealistic, sometimes making love seem like a lie. - pennyp

Do you recall any unusual home remedies from your childhood? Did any of them work?
Baking soda, Epsom salts, vinegar, lemon juice and honey, salt water, Vicks are a few I can think of. I'd say most worked to some degree. I don't think they would have made me any taller?? - pennyp

Do you recall the first time you left your childhood home, and how you felt about the experience?
I left at 17 to get married. I was very happy to get out of my house at that time but remained very close to my mother. I thought at that time, I was very prepared to be on my own. Little did I know how much I had to learn. - pennyp

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Media Reviews

A Huffington Post Book Club Suggestion
An O: The Oprah Magazine Fall Pick
A LitHub Book You Should Read This September
One of The Millions' "Most Anticipated" for 2016

"Marisa Silver's beguiling new novel Little Nothing is a powerful exploration of the relationship between our changeable bodies and our just as malleable identities…Silver's storytelling skills are finely matched to her themes…meditative passages bloom with life." - Matt Bell, The New York Times Book Review

"Marisa Silver's fantastically inventive new novel counters expectations at every turn….The novel's open ending lingers unsettlingly in the mind….Silver manages to transform the fairy tale without losing its power." - Fran Bigman, The Washington Post

"A dark fairy tale that pulses with life and anger, Little Nothing is a remarkable piece of fiction- fantastically written and beautifully crafted." - The Bookbag (UK)

"A parable and a full-fledged, richly told story, with clearly drawn characters who beckon us to come along with them on their journeys….Silver shows us her capacity for fleet-footed writing. Little Nothing is a quick, pleasurable read, but one that's full of mysteries to stop and unpack." - Maddie Crum, The Huffington Post

"In Little Nothing, Marisa Silver doesn't waver….she delivers a tale as mysterious as anything the Grimm Brothers might have collected….Little Nothing celebrates not only the unruly and lost parts of all our lives but also the possibility of their reordering and comprehension." - Thomas Curwen, Los Angeles Times

"A beautifully told, heart-rending, can't-put-it-down read….Silver masterfully balances a riveting plot with deep meaning- exploring love and its inadequacies, the persistent and unequal power of sexuality, the cost of being an outcast in a fearfully conforming society. And her language is simply stunning." - Connie Nelson, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Star-crossed lovers…Pavla serves to remind readers of the moral of the story, that a good soul can find transcendence in the face of unbearable odds. And in Danilo readers will recognize their own longing for transcendence and meaning as he transforms himself through pain and sorrow to a man of courage and ingenuity." - Publishers Weekly

"Silver spins a fable-like tale of two star-crossed lovers in Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century….Pavla and Danilo circle each other but never quite come together until another startling transformation rips them apart, sending Danilo on a quest to find his lost love. Silver has created a gorgeously rendered, imaginative, magical yarn." - Kristine Huntley, Booklist

"Little Nothing is a magnificent something, an inventive, unexpected story that seamlessly blends fable and folklore into the lives of characters who remain heart-wrenchingly real. That Silver wrestles with nearly unanswerable questions- What does it mean to occupy a body? What does it mean to be human? How transformative is love?- and still produces an exhilarating page-turner is a testament to her biting, beautiful prose. In addition to being a joy to read, this book challenged and changed me, and I can't imagine what else anyone would want from a work of art." - Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest
"Little Nothing is the key to its own box, which opens and opens, transcending the limits of the very tale one thought one was reading. There is no limit. There is only the vaporous wonder of transformation, and the kernel of a spirit of a thing that can go on, and does. This book is a beautifully realized riddle." - Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers
"By turns haunting, fanciful, and poignant, Little Nothing is the latest example of why Marisa Silver is one of our finest, most protean storytellers." - Boris Fishman, author of A Replacement Life
"Part allegory, part fable, part love story, Little Nothing is unflinching, brutal, and yet exquisitely beautiful. This haunting and original novel- about the lengths people will go to escape persecution, the transformative power of compassion, and how one can find moments of grace and connection in a world filled with heartache- is unlike anything I've ever read before." - Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train

"In Little Nothing, the wizardly Marisa Silver conjures a pitch-dark tale with empathy and humor. An emotionally suspenseful allegory, the novel reveals how the world's expectations can torque a woman's identity and leave a ferocious ache behind. The novel twisted me up inside. I loved it." - Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies, a National Book Award finalist
"With Little Nothing, the peerless Marisa Silver is at the height of her powers. Following one woman's transformation, Little Nothing reimagines the boundaries between mother and child, human and non-human, possible and impossible. Lyrical, raw, and urgent, this exquisite novel will take you to the outermost edges of heart and mind." - Amity Gaige, author of Shroder

"Little Nothing is a wild, witty, and mesmerizing tale that plays with the dissidence of bodies and the transcendence of longing. Marisa Silver writes beautiful, seductive prose that always manages to be both wise and fleet; her inventive, romantic novel is compassionate and moving in wonderfully surprising ways." - Dana Spiotta, National Book Award finalist and author of Innocents and Others and Eat the Document

This information about Little Nothing was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own reviewwrite your own review


Fantasy and a Nightmare Fairy Tale
This is a book of transformation as we meet a baby with dwarfism born to a peasant couple. Her life is difficult in this small village where those who are different are viewed with suspicion and superstition. Nonetheless, her character and intelligence eventually win over the people in the village and ease her parents' conflicted feelings about their daughter. Some of the transformations this young woman goes through are fantastical indeed! I won't spoil the story by recounting all of them but the reader must suspend reason and logic while reading the story and focus instead on love and transformation as these two themes unfold for the key characters in this fable. Read it and enjoy!

Sandi W.

Really hard for me to review this book. It was good - for me - because this is the type book-break I needed. However, at a different time and place I might not have liked this book as much as I did.

A fable, folklore, mystical - all apply, but really don't describe this book. It tells the story of a deformed girl, Pavla, who was scorned, even originally by her Mother, who ended up in a traveling circus side show. She meets Danilo - who is part of her act. He falls in love with her. Over time she morphs into a wolf and runs away. Danilo searches for her, finds her more than once, and saves her. By stories end, she has morphed back into a human - one imprisoned. Danilo finds her again. However Pavla is not done "becoming". The end of the book has another twist.

Left to determine your own story conclusion, I felt that I was left wanting. It would be nice to have a follow up story about Pavla, however I do not feel that is in the future. The writing was good, the story palatable, once you understand it's premise, and as I stated earlier, the book that I needed to interrupt my past reading collection.


Mixed feelings
If I were rating Marisa Silver's "Little Nothing" on her beautiful writing, her expansive imagination and her compelling characterizations, I would rate this novel Four Stars.
But although I found the writing compelling, when I finished the last page, I just felt muddled. What was she trying to tell me? Pavla is born a dwarf, then becomes a wolf-girl, then a wolf, then a woman. She is loved by Danilo, in all her manifestations. But is he mad?
Is this a fairy tale or a nightmare?
Maybe this novel requires another reading or two.

Linda Z.

Dark and Twisted Tale
Marisa Silver has written a number of genres in her book"Little Nothing".  This novel seems to have symbolic meanings for things on a deeper level. Perhaps it is the difference between good and evil. Perhaps it is dealing with the old and the new, or superstitions, magic, and even the timing at the turn of the century were there is a difference between ancient and modern. The genres for this book could be Fiction, "Subversive Fairy Tale", Thriller, and Folktale. Be warned  this is a very dark, at times frightening, disgusting, horrific story. I certainly had trouble falling asleep after reading it. I found it to be disturbing, and I have to ask myself why I didn't stop reading. The easiest explanation is that the author has a way of telling a story, and I really wanted a happy ending.

The author describes her characters as complicated and complex. I find some of the characters despicable. I find some of the parts of this story despicable. Some of this story is very dark and twisted. Pavla is probably one of the innocent characters both to two elder people who had tried for years to have a baby.  Desperate the mother turns to a witch or gypsy for strange tonics and strange prescriptions.  Pavla is born with a physical deformity and it really takes a long time for her parents to accept her. Or do they? They turn to a charlatan claiming to be a doctor, and will do anything to fix this situation. Can Pavla be fixed? Do you want to know what happens?

It seems that only one person really cares for Pavla, and that person is an outcast as well.

There is  some dark magic and superstitious beliefs that seem to surround the story.

I found some parts of the story unexplainable, or confusing. The timeline and plot seemed to jump around. For those people that like a dark and twisted tale I recommend this for you. If you like to look for symbolism and deeper meanings, this would be for you as well. I received a copy of this book for my honest review? Was there a happily ever after? You'll have to read this book to find out!

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Author Information

Marisa Silver Author Biography

Photo: Bader Howar

Marisa Silver made her fiction debut in The New Yorker when she was featured in that magazine's first Debut Fiction issue. Her collection of short stories, Babe in Paradise was published by W.W. Norton in 2001. It was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year.

In 2005, W.W. Norton published her novel, No Direction Home. Her novel, The God of War, was published in 2008 and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction. Her second collection of stories, Alone With You, was published in April, 2010. Winner of the O. Henry Prize, her fiction has been included in The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, as well as other anthologies. Her novel Mary Coin (2013) is also a New York Times Bestseller.

... Full Biography
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