Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Fantastical Fable


Little Nothing by Marisa Silver


In one of the more beautifully written books I've ever read, Silver brings us a story that blends fantasy with reality into a hybrid fable of the weird and the wonderful, of loss and of love and so much more.

I don't usually read fantasy books, but something about this novel piqued my interest, and I am terribly glad it did. This is the story of Pavla, a dwarf born in an unnamed Slavic country (my guess, the area of the former Czechoslovakia, which only becomes truly obvious near the end of the book), who lives a life filled with transformations. First, her community sees Pavla as a curse, someone to fear, who might bring bad luck. Then, just when she finally gains acceptance her parents try to "cure" her small stature. The last "treatment" succeeds in making her taller, but the additional disastrous results, causes her to flee with the "doctor" and his assistant, Danilo to join a carnival. What comes after this is a carefully engineered story of failures and triumphs, which wind around each other until they all come together with clock-like precision.

Probably the most striking thing about this novel is Silver's writing style. It feels that she chooses her words carefully, so that their cadences create an atmosphere that hovers between waking and dreaming. That she achieves this with such fluidity and simplicity, while giving this a feeling reminiscent of the well-known fables passed down from generation to generation is what is truly impressive. The word "glistens" comes to mind to describe it.

Much like many fables, many parts of this story are truly unpleasant. These include the practically torturous way that Pavla's parents try to cure her from her dwarfism, and a rape scene that ends in a gory death. However, despite these nasty sections, I didn't find this book to be heavy whatsoever. In fact, Silver uses these more repellent passages in order to alter her characters (yes, both physically and emotionally), and then takes us from there to more hopeful situations - even though sometimes the conditions initially feel practically desperate - on the surface. Silver also balances these darker parts of her story with gently flowing prose, tenderly smattered with poetic imagery.

Of course, what would a good fable be if it didn't include some magical or fantastical elements? Silver gives us plenty of these, along with enough doses of reality to help us from disbelieving her overall concept. Add to this a plot that has an abundance of twists and turns that grab our attention and hold onto it from start to finish, but amazingly, never confuses us. Finally, she builds her characters with such love and affection that we cannot help but hope for a happily ever after ending. I will not reveal if Silver delivers this, but I will say that the conclusion of this novel was both unique and surprising.

I'm sure you can tell by now that this novel essentially bowled me over. The writing, the characters, the plot, the language, the atmosphere and even the fantasy just came together in a harmonious symphony that was a joy to read. Obviously, I have to give this a full five out of five stars, and highly recommend it - even to non-fantasy readers.



"Little Nothing" by Marisa Silver published by Blue Rider Press (Penguin Group), release date September 13, 2016 will be available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes (iBook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.