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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

'The Castle in the Pyrenees' by Jostein GAARDER

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Through five intense years in the 1970s, Steinn and Solrunn had a happy life together. Then they suddenly parted ways, for reasons that are unclear to both. In the summer of 2007 they meet again on a balcony of an old wooden hotel by a fjord in Western Norway. It is a place they both have fond memories from and their meeting turns out to be fateful. But is it purely coincidental that they meet at that particular spot at that particular time? Over a couple of weeks that summer they write emails to each other and it becomes clear that they have been living with very different interpretations of their shared past. THE CASTLE IN THE PYRENEES is both a love story and a novel of ideas, exploring the place of human consciousness in the universe.

Jostein Gaarder is a Norwegian writer who gained worldwide success and acclaim with his 1995 novel ‘Sophie’s World’. Few writers can boast selling 30 million copies – but it is especially impressive when the infamous book in question was a basic guide to philosophy.

‘The Castle in the Pyrenees’ is Jostein Gaarder’s latest novel. It is another philosophical novel, but with a love story woven between the dry facts…

I studied Philosophy in my first year of University (don’t we all?)… But all I can recall from those two semesters is my struggle to keep my head above water. I had to pour through dry texts commenting on Descartes dualism, learn the ‘structure’ of paradox and discuss Aristotle’s belief that animals have a soul. It was intellectual torture for me. And I think the main reason being that what was discussed wasn’t relatable. It had no grounding for me, no relevance, and was therefore a complete write-off.

But I think that’s where ‘Castle in the Pyrenees’ excels – in making these ideas pertinent. The back and forth e-mail communication between Steinn and Solrunn was quite a clever narrative structure for Gaarder’s explorations. For one, it makes the book a bit more accessible to a younger audience for whom ‘Pyrenees’ is their first philosophical read.

For another, the e-mail correspondence is in itself quite miraculous. There’s just something a little bit magical about the Internet and e-mail – in the age of facebook, twitter and youtube – it’s this idea that people can reach across time and space and leave their very own indelible cyber footprint.

We will step outside time, leave what we call ‘reality’.

For Steinn and Solrunn, the Internet is their reconnection, the means by which they rekindle what was lost so long ago…

I see this new contact as a stream of thought vibrating between two souls rather than an exchange of correspondence which will be there between us forever.

I think young and old readers alike can relate to the e-mail reconnection of these protagonists. Thanks to facebook and myspace, long-forgotten classmates, ex-lovers and childhood friends are rediscovering each other. That is essentially what ‘Castle in the Pyrenees’ is about – remembering. As Steinn and Solrunn reacquaint themselves, they rehash their past and the mysterious reasons that they drifted apart. But it becomes clear in their individual retellings that they have very different views of their collective past – and both their memories have played tricks on them.

There are some big questions asked in ‘Pyrenees’ – mainly concerning differing views of reality and the exploration of human consciousness.

Nowadays we’re constantly fooled into believing that our own ego is the very centre of the universe. But isn’t that a very exhausting way to live? I mean with the view that the hub of the universe only has a few years or decades left to exist.

I have to admit, this book wasn’t my cup of tea (there’s a reason I only studied Philosophy for one year). But no matter how dry and complicated Gaarder’s philosophical ideas, I’ve got to admire the way he brings philosophy to the masses. This is a very accessible book – Gaarder’s decision to weave an e-mail love story with his grandiose ideas on human consciousness is quite inspired. Even though I didn’t love the book, I would definitely recommend that University Philosophy Department’s everywhere put ‘The Castle in the Pyrenees’ on their reading list (to curb the first year drop-out rate).



  1. Great review! =)

    I LOVED Sophie's World! I read it when I took Philosophy in college as well, but I read it before the professor asked us to... I fell in love with Plato's theories then, and he still is my fave philosopher =)

  2. I believe Jostein Gaarder is a master of his craft. The way he weaves philosophy into his writings is genius. I also had the chance to read Sophie's World back in college and fell in love with it ever since. Indeed, "the only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder." -lee

  3. i didn't like the castle in the pyrenees

  4. I liked the castle of the pyrennees from page 200 to 250. Before, it was too phylosofical. I think there are at least 100 pages that we can cancel


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