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Gine Cornelia Pedersen: Null (Zero)

At the start of this novel, our unnamed narrator is ten years old, though she soon grows up. Already, at that age, she is showing sociopathic tendencies, something she readily admits. Pedersen tells her story, writing in mainly short staccato, first-person sentences. At ten, she has smoked, kissed five boys and has so much to offer.

She lives with her mother. Her parents are divorced. She is very fond of her father but despises her mother, her mother’s boyfriend and her own brother and sister. Her sole ambition is to go to Oslo.

As she gets older, she showing signs of teenage bad behaviour: drinking vodka, self-harming, smoking weed. I’m just an average angry, tormented teenager A classic case.

Things start to get worse. When I finally escape this dump, I’ll burn the entire fucking village to the ground. The village and everyone in it. Everyone apart from Grandma and Grandad and my cousins, anyway. I’ll spare most of my family, but everyone else can just die already.

It is not just her. She has a boyfriend but decides to dump him. He is so upset that he drives off in his car, with her in it, getting up to 90 mph. She thinks she is going to die. She does better with the next one. I’ve taught Jorg to roll a joint, to crave the high I’ve taught him to kiss and to fuck. She even later has a Lesbian affair.

She does get to Oslo but it is not the dream she thought it would be. Working in a care home and a shop are not dream jobs. Gradually her mental condition deteriorates and she is clearly suffering from some mental disorder. Inevitably she ends up in a mental hospital. The treatment they give her – mainly pills – leaves her with nothing. There are no thoughts in my head at all. Zero.

She spends time in the mental hospital, getting treatment. She gets released but things are no better, even with a trip to Peru. She is suicidal, she hallucinates, she drinks, she takes drugs, she has casual and unprotected sex, she loses control, she is violent and out of control.

Pedersen does not spare us any of the narrator’s descent into Hell. She is clearly highly emotionally disturbed. No obvious cause is given. She mentions her parents’ divorce but only in passing and, if it did affect her, this is not made clear. She occasionally sees her parents but neither turns up for her spontaneous marriage which, inevitably, is not terribly successful. She finds it difficult to make permanent attachments, having passionate relationships which usually last only a very short time. Is she grasping for love, a love she did not have a child? Possibly, though again this is not made clear.

Pedersen does not try to explain or examine her narrator but merely shows her how she herself sees herself and the world around her. Every time she tries to grasp at something – love, Oslo, drama school, Peru – it does not work out and she sinks into despondency or turns to drink, drugs, sex or violent behaviour.

The novel was published two years after Anders Behring Breivik killed seventy-seven people in a brutal terrorist attack. This is not mentioned in the novel at all. However, though this may be somewhat simplistic, you wonder what effect the attack had on the psyche of young people in Norway. Is her behaviour just her or is it symptomatic of something going on in Norway (and, perhaps, elsewhere in Scandinavia)? As I said, Pedersen does not try to analyse it. She herself has said that it is about the beast.

The novel had considerable success in Norway and it is easy to see why. She really gets under the skin of her narrator. We know what she feels, what she thinks and what she does (and, sometimes, why she does it). Pedersen has since written one other novel whose title translates as Love Story or Outside and Home or An Epic. It will be interesting to see if that makes it into English but, meanwhile, it is interesting to have a novel by a young Norwegian woman and one that has not, as yet, been translated into any other language.

Publishing history

First published 2013 by Oktober
First published in English in 2018 by Nordisk Press