“If nothing is little then it must be something indeed” (32). In an unnamed village (seems Eastern European), during an unnamed era (perhaps turn of twentieth century), Pavla (“Little”) starts out a dwarf but changes forms over time. Or, perhaps she was never any one thing but all of them at once, like time, which circles in on itself, past, present and future layering until time both exists and doesn’t. It isn’t meaningless, it isn’t nothing; it is something indeed.
Danilo assists in Pavla’s changes and loves her unquestioningly. Cowardly, he never quite gets up the gumption to find her when she goes missing. Instead, he follows his fellow escapee from an asylum and adopted “son,” Markus, when Markus can do nothing but find her. What they they hope to find? What changes have overcome Pavla? What has time does with her?
These are the questions at the heart of this moving novel full of the fantasy that makes life more real than it could ever be on its own. Reminiscent of two other recent novels, The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood and To Name Those Lost by Rohan Wilson, in its themes of wandering through desolate landscapes, encountering temporary associations, the relationship between animals and humans, hunter and hunted, the effect is equally brutal and tender. At some point each character in LITTLE NOTHING does prison time, but, like a reader “trapped” by an engrossing tale, none of them allows confinement to break them. No, imprisonment serves to strengthen Pavla and Danilo and Markus to their next challenge. So too, this novel will embolden readers well after we’ve finished it. Its tone is lyrical, symphonic, sweeping through various tempi and volumes, including silence, like the clipped exclamations – “She looks just like…” (32) that hang open for interpretation. What makes this work superior is its unification: its means is its message. The fairly simple plot (a boy searching for a girl-dwarf-…, who isn’t easily found) rendered beautifully becomes richly complex, mythical. We are left touched by the potential that it could be our story, too.