Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Orange Girl (Jostein Gaarder)

--The blurb--
"At fifteen, Georg comes upon a letter written to him by his dying father, to be read when he is old enough. Their two voices make a fascinating dialogue as Georg gets to know the father he can barely remember and is challenged by him to answer some profound questions."

--The review--
Gaarder appears to possess, in all of his books, an effortless capacity to blend the haunting with the thought-provoking, the ordinary with the extraordinary, and the inspiring with the sad. The Orange Girl is no exception to this, introducing children to the rudiments of philosophical thought and deeper contemplation through the medium of a highly readable story.

Regular readers of Gaarder's work will find that a few things grate: those familiar with Sophie's World may find that the "Are you sitting comfortably..." beginning lacks hugely in originality, and, more generally, that the novella's ending is on the side of cliché. On a more personal note, the use of existing brand names in fiction is something that annoys me greatly, and the annoyance was not lessened here. Nevertheless, there are many positives to be found in this story: the characters are few, but simply and vividly drawn, while the story is simultaneously touching and compelling in its mystery and sadness. Anyone who has ever suffered a bereavement will find that this strikes a chord, and as a novella it stands as a useful precursor to Gaarder's longer and more harrowing Through A Glass Darkly, with both exploring many of the same themes, albeit through different prisms.

The story is essentially one long chapter, but it is easy and intriguing to read, flowing well. Gaarder successfully lulls the reader into a genuine sense of security and awakening: the cogs turn in your mind as you read, but slowly and without taxation. The effects linger gently, and despite the story's slight element of predictability, it is a pleasing and worthwhile read for adults as well as children. Carrying a great sense of simultaneous personal and universal history, it is a reminder to us all to never forget our origins, and to remember always that even our own parents were once young too.

Other works by Jostein Gaarder
The Frog Castle (1988)
The Solitaire Mystery (1990)
Sophie's World (1991)
The Christmas Mystery (1992)
Through A Glass Darkly (1993)
Hello? Is There Anybody There? (1996)
Vita Brevis (1996)
Maya (1999)
The Ringmaster's Daughter (2001)
Checkmate (2006)
The Yellow Dwarves (2006)
The Castle In The Pyrenees (2008)

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