by Janne Teller
If you want to show your readers that a character's becoming a savage, try this: have her pretend to be someone's best friend, only to demand that the girl sacrifice her hamster.
Not good enough? Well, how about if she slits a dog's throat? No? Rape? No? Chopping off a finger? There's enough barbarism in Nothing to go around, and everyone just keeps upping the ante. This is a story about how ordinary people can be driven mad by a desire for victory, revenge, and fame, all of which, in this case, fall under the general heading of "search for meaning." In attempting to prove a point to Pierre Anthon, the rest of the cast of characters goes completely overboard, with their actions escalating as each dares the next to do something even more gruesome than they just did.
There are some truly excellent names in Nothing, and they tell us everything we need to know about a cast of largely undefined characters. We don't hear Pretty Rosa say anything that couldn't come out of any other character's mouth, but we know she's pretty. Likewise with Little Ingrid, but we know she's little. Same for Holy Karl and Huge Hans. Even Henrik gets an honorary nickname: he's Henrik Butter-Up, which tells us in three words (two if you factor in the hyphen) that he kisses up to teachers and adults.
We learn the most about the characters in Nothing when we see the things they give up. For example, Maiken wants to be an astronomer, so she has to give up her telescope. Agnes wants to be a fashionista, so she has to give up her new shoes. We learn that Hussain and Holy Karl are religious (well, we knew that about Holy Karl already, just from his name) when they have to give up the prayer mat and the statue of Jesus. It's when it starts getting really twisted—Cinderella's head, Sofie's virginity, Jon-Johan's finger—that the things given up could have belonged to anyone.