I have thought about this book often since finishing it a week ago. This is going to be difficult to review, as I have very conflicted feelings over it…
Author: Marisa Silver
Genre: Fantasy > Fairytale • Literary Fiction
Publisher: Blue Rider Press (September 13, 2016)
A stunning, provocative new novel from New York Times bestselling author Marisa Silver, Little Nothing is the story of Pavla, a child 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 disgust from her community. Pavla has been born a dwarf, beautiful in face, but as the years pass, she grows no further than the edge of her crib. When her parents turn to the treatments of a local doctor and freak sideshow proprietor, his terrifying cure opens the floodgates persecution for Pavla. Little Nothing unfolds across a lifetime of unimaginable, magical transformation in and out of human form, as this outcast woman is hunted down and incarcerated for her desires, her body broken and her identity stripped away until her soul is strong enough to transcend all physical bounds. 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 shocking and original story, and extraordinary, page-turning prose, Silver delivers a novel of sheer electricity.
I requested Little Nothing via NetGalley after it was confirmed that Marisa Silver would be attending the Books by the Banks, a book festival I am attending in October 2016. After reading the synopsis, my interest was definitely piqued. A peasant couple dabble with gypsy concoctions in order to conceive a child, but then bore a child with dwarfism that is misunderstood and rejected by their village? Sign me up!
From the very beginning I was engrossed with Pavla’s story. Pavla is born with the world against her, yet she overcomes everything that life throws at her. I had never read a book with a dwarf or little person as the main character, so it was very refreshing. Pavla’s journey is an uphill battle every step of the way. I really struggled with some of the actions and decisions made by Pavla’s parents, Agáta and Vaclav. Deep down, I do believe they cared for their daughter, however they were never able to see past her “physical limitations.” They treated her dwarfism as a mistake that needed to be corrected. Instead of trying to “fix” her, they should have seen her for the beautiful, clever, and resourceful girl that she was. It was heartbreaking to watch Pavla endure everything her parents put her through.
And then things took a turn for the odd…
For the first 25% of this book, I honestly thought this was going to be a 5-star read for me. I thought I knew where this was going, however I was completely side swiped at the 30% mark. Honestly, I contemplated not finishing because I was caught so off guard, and not in a good way. I thought this was going to be a fable about Pavla overcoming her physical differences as a dwarf and earning her place in the world, but things did not pan out that way. I struggled with the decision to continue on, or to give up. Ultimately I decided that I was not giving the book a fair shot if I did not finish, as I was judging it on my preconceived notions. I decided to push on and hope for the best.
The remaining 75% of the book is about Danilo. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed Danilo’s story. Danilo’s portion of the story is, oddly enough, a beautiful love story where we see that a man will do anything for the “woman” he loves. Which is interesting, as Pavla and Danilo do not spend ANY time together in the second half of the book… I loved his journey and how everything in the end came around full circle.
In the end, I am glad that I decided to continue on, as I did enjoy the rest of the book, however I am very conflicted. Little Nothing felt like two different stories that I thoroughly enjoyed SEPERATLY, however did not think they flowed well together, making the book seem disjointed. This book should have been split into two different stories. The first 25%, then the remaining 75%. I think my biggest hang up would have to be the transition from when Pavla is a dwarf, into her time in the freak show and beyond. It all felt super abrupt, which is why I felt so caught off guard. I think if I had been a little more prepared for this transition, I wouldn’t have struggled with it as much as I did.
This book was quite tragic and peculiar, which I typically gravitate towards, however I just could connect with this book as a whole. I have thought about this book often since finishing it. Do I recommend this book? I feel like this book is going to appeal to a very specific audience. With that being said, who might that audience be? I honestly don’t know, but I know they are out there. I think it is a definite possibility that I have missed the mark on the message that the author was trying to convey. Since this is a newer release, I will be interested in seeing more reviews as they are posted to see whether or not I am alone in my conflicted feelings.
*Thank you to Blue Rider Press via NetGalley for providing me a copy with Little Nothing in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author:
Marisa Silver is the author of the novel, Little Nothing, which will be published on September 13th, 2016. Her other novels include Mary Coin, a New York Times Bestseller and winner of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Award for Fiction, The God of War, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction, and No Direction Home. Her first collection of short stories, Babe in Paradise was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. When her second collection, Alone With You was published, The New York Times called her “one of California’s most celebrated contemporary writers.” Silver made her fiction debut in The New Yorker when she was featured in that magazine’s first “Debut Fiction” issue. 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.