‘The Orange Girl’ by Jostein Gaarder – Review


I once had a really horrible boyfriend, (actually, I’ve had several), and while he busied himself with Crown lager and transforming into Mr Hyde I would bury myself in ‘Sophie’s World’, a book lent to me by a kind aunty with impeccable timing. The solace I found among those pages initiated a quest to read more of the Norwegian writer’s stories, much like my later obsession with Paolo Coelho or Juliet Marillier.

But Jostein Gaarder’s offerings are a bit hit and miss. The curse of being a seasoned authorial fan lies in the comparison of ‘other’ works to the big, wonderful ‘one’ that finds its way onto the shelf in more than one edition. ‘Sophie’s World’, Gaarder’s most famous YA novel on the history of philosophy, is an epic work that began my love affair with the ideas of ancient and modern thinkers. On this pedestal is also ‘The Solitaire Mystery’, a fantastical adventure story about a son and his father on an expedition with a living, dancing deck of cards.

‘The Christmas Mystery’ however was a diluted version of ‘The Solitaire Mystery’ and sits in my mind next to ‘Maya’, an Indonesian journey that entertains the spiritual search for meaning. I’m afraid that ‘The Orange Girl’ also belongs in this second category: Gaarder’s prose is so beautiful, and the lovely turn of phrase never fails to surround me with magic and delight. But the story that pours from a letter written to a teenage boy by his deceased father lacks much in the way of plot or intrigue.

The missive from Jan to the narrator was hidden for years in an old pram and now that it’s been found, we sit with Georg as he reads his father’s words and provides for us a commentary about his family, his life, and his interests. Attempting to convey nostalgia, ‘The Orange Girl’ tells the love story of the boy’s parents and the saddening circumstances that pulled Jan from his wife and young son.

This is a sweet novella about a man who posthumously desires that his son should know him. It smacks with sentiment, but my reaction was not so much ‘oh, life is so precious!’ but rather ‘this is lovely, but so what?’ (I feel so dirty being harsh to the man who wrote the book that still saves me from Plato’s allegory of the cave.)

‘The Orange Girl’ is a character led story, which is all well and good but it needed to have more to drive it forward in order to sustain my attention and distract me from nasty, beer-guzzling bogans.

A sentimental 3 stars.