Wednesday, 4 November 2015
Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
This is not a book for me. I found it draggy, creaky, didactic and boring. It's been a long time since a book provoked that much ennui. (I finished it anyway, because I am nothing if not stubborn.) What amused me were the vast differences in people's reactions when I told them what I was reading and that I didn't like it very much.
At my book club, I described it to the group, and one of the members fervently agreed with me that it was terribly boring and so didactic as to be almost unreadable. I felt justified. Then, a few days later, getting picked up at 6:10 am to work all day, I said nearly the same thing, and someone's response was "I loved that book! I thought it was charming!" So then I felt awkward.
What I take from that is that this is a book that is divisive. So I apologize to everyone who was delighted by this book. I was bored by tears. I could see the scaffolding. It was clunky. It was heavy-handed. It is not for me. It doesn't help that I remember the great philosophy course I took in OAC very well, and so I already knew most of the philosophy the author was throwing like large chunks of dry bread.
It's not the philosophy that's the problem. It's the story it's hung around. The dialogue is painfully bad - and maybe it's only in the bits where we're in the book within the book, but I don't think that makes it forgivable. If your story is about the people in a book within a book recognizing their fictionality, the book had better be well written. Otherwise, I don't really care. I'm sorry if that's being discriminatory against badly written characters, but man, I have little enough time to spend caring about all the well-written characters in my reading life.
The dialogue was just painful, though. Clunky, and you could see where the responses were there to bring out the next didactic point, rather than coming from any real character place. I didn't really care if Sophie escaped into the margins. I really didn't. She was only the cardboard figure of the person in a Socratic dialogue who knows nothing. Some of the lines made me wince they were so obviously there only to advance the next philosophical point.
There is just so little pleasure to be found in this novel. The idea is interesting, but it's so rickety. Maybe it's the translation - I am not reading this in the original. But still. There is so little pleasure.
I particularly hated the way Sophie had a mystical experience - she just had it, as soon as it was mentioned, and then it was gone, and apparently left no lasting effect. What? That is not the way mystical experiences happen. There's a later Alice-in-Wonderland inspired moment where she is clunkily given revelations about the individuality of all people, and the oneness of all people and it's so, so overt and not in any way moving.
Wait till the next book I review, which I will argue does beautifully what this book does badly, without ever drawing attention to what it's doing. That book (Station Eleven) moved me to tears. This moved me to a slightly raised eyebrow. I felt part of nothing while reading this book. The philosophical sections are fine, but far too textbook-like, and the prose in between is painful.
I apologize again to those who thought this was charming.