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Dr No by Percival Everett: author is in playful terrain in this story about nothing

Narrative crackles with fixated mathematical brilliance and propulsive wordplay

Dr No
Dr No
Author: Percival Everett
ISBN-13: 978-1914391248
Publisher: Influx Press
Guideline Price: £9.99

Dr No is American author Percival Everett’s follow-up to The Trees, which was shortlisted for last year’s Booker Prize. But Everett is in playful terrain with Dr No, a story about nothing – literally nothing – that’s crackling with fixated mathematical brilliance and propulsive wordplay. We read on, even as we’re repeatedly told that it’s “nothing doing”.

“I want your pure, honest confusion,” says billionaire John Sill to the narrator, Wala Kitu, a professor of mathematics whose first and last names mean “nothing” in Tagalog and Swahili respectively. Kitu, it turns out, is also an expert in nothing. Pure, honest confusion powers this madcap James Bond caper. Sill “looked like a supervillain, or worse, an openly promiscuous and functionally alcoholic heterosexual with an on-and-off again messiah complex.”

Sill is the wannabe Bond villain who expects a “double-naught spy” to be sent on his trail. Kitu is the unlikely hero he signs on to help harness the power of nothing, but who quickly realises that nothing can be catastrophic, if not stopped. Cue a zany cast of calamitous henchmen and sidekicks, including deadly robotic beauties and a government agent named Bill Clinton (“not that Bill Clinton”). Kitu’s only friend is a one-legged dog he converses with in lucid dreams, thanks to which we learn crucial backstory, the dog possibly a creation of the narrator’s Id.

“This country has never given anything to us and it never will. We have given everything to it. I think it’s time we gave nothing back,” says one henchman. Sill seeks to avenge the state-sponsored murders of his parents, which are linked to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Always present is US race relations, as satire, potentially deadly police traffic stops comically subverted.


Sill plans to rob Fort Knox – like the Bond villain in Goldfinger. Dr No alludes to many films in the James Bond franchise; even a scene depicting malevolent crop-dusting planes may evoke Hitchcock’s classic chase movie, North by Northwest.

Ultimately, Sill “wants nothing to happen” to the United States. Can one possess nothing? Can Wala Kitu stop nothing? And does it matter? The delight is in the reading. As one character says, “Damn it, I don’t understand it, but I love it.”