Friday, 6 August 2010
Foreign Language Friday: Through a Glass, Darkly by Jostein Gaarder
Originally Published in: Norwegian
Translated by: James Anderson
Summary (from Goodreads): As Cecilia lies ill in bed and her family prepare for Christmas, knowing she will not recover, an angel steps through her window. But Ariel is no ordinary angel - at least, he does not conform to conventional ideas of what an angel looks like and says. He likes nothing better than to sit around and chat about life, death and the universe. Through a Glass, Darkly is a springboard for a spirited and thoroughly engaging series of conversations between Cecilia and her angel.
As the weeks pass and winter turns to spring, subtle changes take place in the relationship between Cecilia and her family, as she swings from feelings of anger and denial, hope and despair, to a calm acceptance of her lot. She is preparing to leave...
Review: Jostein Gaarder is probably my favourite non-English language author. With good reason. He writes about life, (occasionally) love, and the universe with such wonder and excitement it really opens your eyes. In some of his books you can almost tell, "ah, yes, he's thinking about this as he writes." and Through A Glass, Darkly is one of those such novels.
The book is almost entirely made up of dialogue between Cecilia and an angel named Ariel. Cecilia's ill and, although you never actually find out what disease it is that keeps her in bed all the time, with nothing much else to do she and Ariel spend night after night talking about the mysteries of heaven and Earth. Anyway, it's as if Jostein himself is asking these questions, just thinking them himself, and then answering them. It makes for an interesting read.
Through A Glass, Darkly is to my mind what bridges the gap between Jostein's books Hello? Is Anybody There? and Sophie's World. Even though I read the latter when I was ten and really liked it, by the 1800s my brain felt like it had been in a blender on the most powerful setting and I couldn't remember who had said what when and who had disagreed with them. Anyway, Through a Glass is very vague as to who it was actually written for- kids? teens? Adults? Maybe all three. It's pretty family-friendly, I guess, without any violence, bad language or anything overly sexual (sorry if you picked this up expecting those things). Don't let that put you off- it still makes you think.
So it doesn't really have a plot as such; Girl meets angel. Girl and angel talk. Girl dies (which we sort of know she will from the very beginning). Despite that, in a quiet and gentle sort of way, it leaves you with a lot to think about. I think it would make an excellent play; made by one of those indie theatre companies, with just five people or so performing in a tiny little theatre, with just one set of scenery. I can imagine it now. When my Norwegian improves further than "Jeg forstår ikke, jeg bare snakke litt norsk, men jeg lærer " * I shall have to write a letter to Mr. Gaarder and suggest this.
I don't know why but Cecilia got on my nerves a bit at the start of the book. Perhaps it was just because her exact age wasn't given, and I just imagined her older than she really was, but she seemed slightly immature. Ariel, though, was a great character, and I liked him more than some other angels I could mention *cough* Patch from Hush Hush *cough cough* . Mostly because he was friendly, and not a scary violent stalker. If you're ill in bed at Christmas time, Ariel is the sort of angel you'd like to meet and to discuss life and the universe with.
So, well, although it isn't my favourite Gaarder book, I still enjoyed it. It reminds me a little of The Book of Everything in that everybody and anybody from nine to ninety would like it. Hmm. What was lacking, then? Well, it wasn't as "ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in Space!" as Sophie's World, and not as romantic as The Orange Girl. It was kind of short, and, well, call me bitter when I say that the ending was predictable if you like. I'm still glad I read it though, and of a dark winter's night it will keep you busy.
In three words: curious, eye-opening, sweet.
*and sorry if I said that wrong or that sentence posesses more grammatical errors than stars in the sky, but honestly, how much Norwegian does a British teenage girl normally speak? Unless they have Norwegian relatives of course.