Thursday I went and saw Jostein Gaarder at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Most would know him as the author of Sophie's World - the book of letters to a young girl about philosophy. He has returned to letters again, this time in the form of the less romantic but more instant email in his latest book, The Castle in the Pyrenees.
I read it while I was in Norfolk for the week, because despite the wonderful engagement news I spent most of the week in bed sick and have not moved far from bed since I got home. I ventured out to the Writers Festival once, but then was unable to make it to see him speak again or see John Tranter read at the Old Parliament house last night.
I loved Sophie's World, but I have also read The Solitaire Mystery, The Christmas Mystery, Vita Brevis, Through a Glass Darkly and the Ring Master's Daughter. While The Castle in the Pyrenees is a compelling read with two past lovers engaged in correspondence while being miles apart after one chance encounter thirty years after they broke up, I have a problem with part of it. I like that one character was a scientist and the other had become a spiritualist, I enjoyed their banter and reminiscing over their wonderful relationship in their youths. But at a certain point, it becomes like I Know What You Did Last Summer and that ruined a lot of it for me. I have always loved how Gaarder weaves philosophy into his stories and I can forgive him if I think that perhaps that awful movie didn't make it to Norway.
In an act to redeem Jostein Gaarder after what I just wrote about him, he was great on stage. He spoke about his new book and about the doors Sophie's World opened to him; but he spoke about life. The mystery of life, the wonder of it, the fact that every morning he wakes us next to an alien - himself. He looks in the mirror and thinks "Who is that person?" How come I am part of this mystery?
He spoke about two strands of philosophy, the first being ontological - the study of the nature of being and the other strand is about how to live well. So, he said, people say why ask these questions? Well why not, it was not that long ago that we didn't know what the dark side of the moon looked like, now you can buy detailed maps.
He also made a beautiful point that to "believe" something is different than having faith. He might believe that Manchester United will win and even make strong arguments as to why they will win, but it does not mean that they will. In the same way, he can believe in a soul - but to have faith, that is something different.
I do recommend the book and if you have never picked up a Gaarder book before, maybe start with The Solitaire Mystery.