Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Finished reading - Castle in the Pyrenees

Jostein Gaarder is one of my favourite authors. I've read almost all of his works and I love the way he weaves philosophical ideas into his stories. I often have to re-read paragraphs, and I like books that challenge me to stop and think as I'm reading.

He is most well known for Sophie's World but I felt the story there was used to to soften the long sections of philosophical exposition rather than being the main focus. I prefer his other books where the narrative element is stronger and philosophy is explored through ideas in the stories, like in Maya, The Solitaire Mystery and Through a Glass, Darkly.

In his most recent The Castle in the Pyrenees, we meet Solrunn and Steinn, two people who were once deeply in love back in the 1970s. A terrible event caused them to go their separate ways and after 30 years without contact, they meet again in a hotel by a fjord in western Norway, a place they once spent time together. They both have their own families now, but the meeting rekindles many memories and buried feelings. They start an email correspondence and reminisce on the hopes and dreams they once shared, discussing philosophical questions about life and death, and bringing up once more the terrible incident that drove them apart.

The story is told entirely through their email conversation. It is an interesting format and is used to present two very different viewpoints on life and beyond - one that is scientific and rational against one that is a spiritual and romantic. I didn't find the story of the two past lovers particularly gripping and nothing very much actually seems to happen. The plot twist at the end, though clever, felt rushed. But perhaps that detachment would be true for any outsider looking in on the reminiscense of two people who were once in such an intense relationship. There is certainly a feeling of sadness and a sense of lost naivety. The existential questioning also weighs rather heavily. Gaarder has explored fate, death and loss before but this had a more melancholic tone in comparison. I didn't like this one as much, but it is certainly worth trying, though perhaps not the first one to know his work by.

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