Book Review: The Solitaire Mystery

The Solitaire MysteryThe Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The biggest mystery for me is why I continue to read this Norwegian author’s books. The Solitaire Mystery is the third book of his I’ve read though it seems I’ve read the books in reverse order of publication, this being one of his first stories.

The structure, as with Sophie’s World and The Christmas Mystery is brilliant. The book is about playing cards and structured like a deck with stories within stories interweaving like a shuffled pack until straightened out ‘by the Joker’, as it were, at the end of the ‘game’. This appeals to my mind and is, perhaps, why I come back to Gaarder’s books again and again. They are all similarly structured in an intellectually stimulating manner.

But I do find his plots ultimately disappointing when it comes to the end. I don’t find myself wishing the book would never end which is always the hallmark of a good novel as far as I’m concerned. Gaarder’s books feel like they been written by a mathematician rather than a novelist and fail to satisfy the soul no matter how beautifully constructed they are. The characters lack depth, warmth or even believability and it feels clear they are merely vehicles for the goal of philosophising. The philosophy in question is simplistic, naive and trite, unfortunately, and the lack of interest in the characters themselves makes the whole thing feel somewhat ‘dishonest’.

Perhaps it is the translating from Norwegian into English which is to blame? No book can truly be appreciated outside the native tongue of its author and so I refrain from completely dismissing Gaarder’s work altogether. But I can honestly say that this is one game of Solitaire I won’t feel the urge to return to. I’m glad I read it, glad I saw the book to the end, glad to have witnessed the beauty of Gaarder’s style and structure but, in the end, glad it’s over.

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