For my next read I decided that I wanted something fairly easy-going and fun. So, having enjoyed reading Jostein Gaarder’s The Christmas Mystery over Christmas, I decided to pick another of Gaarder’s books off the bookshelf – this time The Solitaire Mystery.

The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder

This book has several similarities to The Christmas Mystery, in that it is told from the perspective of a child; it contains a story-within-a-story; it spans different points in history; and it is really about a quest for truth and for answers. It also intertwines several key philosophical questions and concepts into its narrative. Gaarder has a real knack of being able to take complex ideas and present them in really easy-to grasp narratives that are accessible for teenagers upwards.

Our protagonist here is the twelve-year-old Hans Thomas, a Norwegian boy who is accompanying his father on a long car journey to Greece in an attempt to to find his mother. Both father and son have something of the natural philosopher about them and are constantly in wonder about their own existence and the world around them. This trip to Athens thus provides a perfect opportunity for them both to learn more about themselves, each other, and their shared heritage. En route, the pair also meet some curious characters, including a dwarf with cold hand, an elderly baker, a joker and a fortune-teller.

As with The Christmas Mystery, this book contains lots of short chapters, and typically you read one chapter containing the narrative of Hans Thomas’s trip south with his father, followed by a chapter of the story-within-a-story – in this case, the tale of Baker Hans, who became shipwrecked on a strange island back in 1842. This narrative structure works well here, and certainly keeps the pace and intrigue levels high.

I don’t want to write too much about the plot, as I’d hate to give anything away, but here are the closing lines, which give a flavour of the philosophical nature of the narrative:

Time is turning me into an adult. Time is also making the ancient temples crumble and even older islands sink into the sea.

Was there really a sticky-bun book in the biggest of the four buns in the bag? No question crosses my mind more often. As Socrates said, the only thing I know is that I know nothing.

But I am positive there is still a Joker roaming around the world. He will make sure that the world never rests. Whenever possible – and wherever possible – a little fool will jump out wearing long donkey ears and jingling bells. He will look deep into our eyes and ask, Who are you? Where do we come from?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, and would heatedly recommend it. It also makes me want to re-read Sophie’s World, especially as I can remember very little about it now (it was fifteen years ago when I read it).

If you liked this, you might also enjoy: The Christmas Mystery or Sophie’s World, both also by Jostein Gaarder.