The Solitaire Mystery (1990, published in English in 1996) by Jostein Gaarder is a wonderfully crafted fantasy novel.
Written by the best-selling author of Sophie’s World and winner of the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature in 1990, this book follows two stories which may or may not be linked in some way. The first story within a story is told from the point of view of a 12-year-old boy Hans-Thomas. He and his father are on the road trying to find Hans-Thomas’ mother who left many years before. Hans-Thomas meets a man at a petrol station who gives him a magnifying glass and tells him that “You’ll need it!”. As the journey progresses, Hans-Thomas meets a baker at a cafe where he and his father stop off to eat. The baker gives Hans-Thomas a sticky bun to eat on the journey. Inside the bun Hans-Thomas finds a small book with writing that is difficult to read so he uses the magnifying glass to make it out. After this the story moves between Hans-Thomas’ story with his father and the story which the sticky bun book tells as Hans-Thomas reads it. The sticky bun book tells a tale of an old baker who had a grandfather who gave him a liquid to try called Rainbow Fizz, a drink he found out about when he was shipwrecked in his younger years. On the island where he was shipwrecked there lived an elderly sailor Frode and 53 more people whose names were the 52 playing cards and the joker. As the story unfolds, the connections between Hans-Thomas’ life and the story in the sticky bun book begin to merge more and more together. The mystery element to the story is very cool.
It is a fascinating book which has much in it about family dynamics and the search for something meaningful in your life. There is also great and authentic dialogue in this book and it’s wonderfully philosophical in many parts. Though this book’s target audience is YA, it is a book that people of any age will enjoy. There is some beautifully put together writing in it, at times poetic but always accessible. It is a wonderful book which crosses many genres from fantasy to drama to mystery and does so in a very cohesive fashion. The book is translated brilliantly too from Norwegian to English by Sarah Jane Hails.
A brilliant book.
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