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Summary and book reviews of Nothing by Janne Teller

Nothing

by Janne Teller

Nothing
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2010, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2012, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Cindy Anderson

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About this Book

Book Summary

A Lord of the Flies for the twenty-first century, Nothing is a visionary existential novel - about everything, and nothing - that will haunt you.

"Nothing matters."

"From the moment you are born, you start to die."

"The Earth is 4.6 billion years old. You'll live to be a maximum of one hundred. Life isn't worth the bother!"

So says Pierre Anthon when he decides that there is no meaning to life, leaves the classroom, climbs a plum tree, and stays there.

His friends and classmates cannot get him to come down, not even by pelting him with rocks. So to prove to him that there is a meaning to life, they set out to build a heap of meaning in an abandoned sawmill.

But 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. 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 then, as each demand becomes more extreme, things start taking a very morbid twist, and the kids become ever more desperate to get Pierre Anthon down. And what if, after all these sacrifices, the pile is not meaningful enough?

A Lord of the Flies for the twenty-first century, Nothing is a visionary existential novel - about everything, and nothing - that will haunt you.

I

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

II

Pierre Anthon left school the day he realized that nothing was worth doing, because nothing meant anything anyway.

The rest of us stayed on.

And although the teachers had a job on their hands tidying up after Pierre Anthon in the classroom as well as in our heads, part of Pierre Anthon remained stuck inside of us. Maybe that was why it all turned out the way it did.

It was the second week of August. The sun was heavy, making us slow and irritable, the tarmac caught on the soles of our sneakers, and apples and pears were just ripe enough to lie snugly in the hand, the perfect missiles. We looked neither left nor right. It was the first day of school after summer vacation. The classroom smelled of detergent and weeks of emptiness, the windows reflected clear and bright, and the blackboard was yet to be blanketed with chalk dust. The desks stood two by two in rows as ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

I have not been able to stop talking about Nothing since I read it (twice) before writing this review. It's ready-made for book club or classroom discussions, and it's guaranteed to provide (forgive me) food for thought long after you have finished reading... Nothing delves deep into philosophical territory in a way that few modern fiction novels (especially YA novels) do. Within this tale we find themes of nihilism and existentialism, materialism, and fear of nonconformity. Teller makes us think about how we are able to face the reality of death, and still manage to find meaning in life (whether one is religious or not). Most importantly, it asks: what creates "meaning?" I'll warn you that it doesn't answer all of these questions, but this is a good thing for thoughtful readers.   (Reviewed by Cindy Anderson).

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Media Reviews
School Library Journal

Danish kids apparently love a good existential discussion, but the group's circular debates may bore and/or confuse American middle schoolers.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. The matter-of-fact, ruthlessly logical amorality of these teens is chilling. Gorgeously lyrical, as abetted by Aitken’s translation, and dreadfully bleak.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A provocative and challenging parable about human instability. Ages 12+.

Booklist

Starred Review. Already a multiple award winner overseas, this is an unforgettable treatise on the fleeting and mutable nature of meaning.

Berlingske Tidende, Denmark

You're fascinated and can hardly let go of the book. ...Teller writes with a bold ease and an amazing amplitude of language. ...Unusually well written. Not only a novel for youngsters from the age of twelve, also grown-ups should grant themselves the joy of reading this book.

Le Matricule des Anges, France

The Danish Janne Teller dissects the existential agonies of a group of adolescents to the very bearable limits. Breathtaking. …In just 136 pages, Janne Teller engages her characters in a true search for the meaning of life. …Janne Teller excells at upholding the dramatic suspense right until the very last page in a novel that is at one and the same time resilient, merciless and yet very moving. Great art.

Svenske Dagbladet, Sweden

Janne Teller has written a gruesome, stinging contemporary saga, unveiling how the lack of role models and hopes for the future create egoists and carreerists, a new human race with hearts of stone.

Politiken, Denmark

Nothing is a fairy tale set in every day life about the very essence of life. It is written for and can be read by everyone - the way it is with the very best of children's books.

Skolebiblioteket - Bent Rasmussen

It's long since I read a novel making such deep an impression on me. …It's a gruesome, yes, inescapable book. It asks the large existential questions: what matters in life? Does anything matter at all? …Nothing is well written and pervasive. Nothing remains within my body, there's no way I can shake it off, in fact I doubt if I really read what I did. But I did!

Lirado, France

Nothing is a book which marks the spirit forever. It deserves to be read and reread many times to fully perceive the numerous reflections that it offers, and which are all interesting. The hat off for Janne Teller for the theme of her story and for her style of writing. They are both remarkable!

NRK, Kultur, Norway

It's impossible not to be moved.

Information, Denmark

The novel asks the immense existential questions of the meaning of life. With its unusual rhythmic and tightly composed language it is an amazing piece of work. Teasingly, grippingly and thrillingly, it describes a group of children's desperate endeavor to prove to themselves and others that something really matters.

VG, Norway

The book has a shocking nerve. The story brings to life a myriad of emotions and inspires both afterthought and debate.

Sandefjords Blad, Norway

The most important youth novel of the year.

Reader Reviews
Nicole

Nothing
I read this book when it first came out not too long ago for my book club. I picked up before anyone else did, and ever since I talked about it, everyone has loved it. This book is definitely not meant for 12 year olds, nor would I really want a 13 ...   Read More

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The Treetop Philosopher

Although Nothing's protagonist, Pierre, seems to withdraw from the world, he is not necessarily a nihilist (one who believes in nothing). When he tells the other children he is "contemplating the sky, and getting used to doing nothing," and urges them to "enjoy the nothing that is," his attitude is reminiscent of the French novelist and philosopher Albert Camus. Camus and Friedrich Nietzsche both found some rationale for living inspite of the inevitability of death and the absence (in their view) of an afterlife. Trying to find a way to live life in spite of the emptiness he perceives, Pierre watches with disappointment from his plum tree at his friends who seek meaning in the world of objects (literally, in a pile of objects), rather than ...

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