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" (Summary from Book Browse)
I was first interested in Nothing after reading some positive reviews from a number of book bloggers, with many comparing it to Lord of the Flies. I love dystopian fiction, so this definitely sounded like the book for me. When I won $10 from the Book Depository from Jinky over at Jinky is Reading, I decided to order a copy and see what all the fuss was about. What I got was a strange YA book that is very hard to review.
First, the good things. I loved the premise of this book. Haven't we all had those moments when we felt like life had no purpose, and tried to come up with things that are personally meaningful to help us get through it? The kids wanted to prove Pierre Anthon wrong, so they started giving up the things that meant the most to them. The trouble started when one kid brought his prized collection of D&D books, but left his favorite ones at home. The others decided that it wasn't really meaningful unless he brought them all. Besides, was he trying to say that those books didn't mean something by not bringing them? No, of course not, so he had to give them up. But we all havea sense of revenge. When a child gives up something, they get to be the next to decide who gives up what. If that boy had to give up his most treasured possession, then why shouldn't the other girl have to give up her hair, or her baby brother, or her innocence? Things quickly spiraled out of control, with each demand being more cruel and more extreme then the next. The general idea of the book, and how quickly and drastically things went crazy, is what I enjoyed about this book.
Now for the bad things. This book was definitely a book for younger kids, and I felt a little bored at times with the writing style. I'm not sure if this was partially due to the translation, but I felt like it wasn't very emotionally attached to the characters. I also felt that some of the layout devices, like blank pages or pages with only one sentence on them, were a little bit cheesy, unnecessary, and overused. The book was very easy to read, taking me between one and two hours, mostly because it was written at such a low reading level and because the type was rather big. Aside from the writing and the format, I felt like the plot was a little underdeveloped. The premise was set up nicely, but then it just sort of plateaued to the end. I feel like maybe the author didn't know where to go with the idea, or that she wanted the book to be short so she didn't fully develop the plot.
With a book like this, I feel required to discuss the theme as well. Here is what Pierre Anthon had to say:
"Everything begins just in order to end. The moment you were born you began to die, and that goes for everything else as well."
"The Earth is 4.6 billion years old. You'll live to be a maximum of one hundred. Life isn't worth the bother!"
And technically, those things are true. But does that really mean that nothing matters? Of course not! Why must we be so concieted that we require some cosmic significance in order to live? I'm sure we've all heard the quote, "To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world." Why doesn't that also apply to the universe as well? We don't need to affect the entire cosmos, or even our entire planet, to lead meaningful lives. Meaning is what you make of it, and I like to think that life, just like the autumn leaves, takes its beauty from its inpermanance.
Interesting premise, lack of plot and character development, intended for a younger audience.