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BOOK REVIEW: The World According to Anna by Jostein Gaarder

BOOK REVIEW: The World According to Anna by Jostein Gaarder

Weidenfeld & Nicholson | Orion
November 2015
Hardback, $24.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

3/10

isbn9780297609735

When fifteen-year-old Anna begins receiving messages from another time, her parents take her to the doctor. But he can find nothing wrong with Anna; in fact he believes there may be some truth to what she is seeing.

Anna is haunted by visions of the desolate world of 2082. She sees her great-granddaughter, Nova, roaming through wasteland with a band of survivors, after animals and plants have died out. The more Anna sees, the more she realises she must act to prevent the future in her visions becoming real. But can she act quickly enough?

Haunting, gripping and magical, The World According to Anna is a fable for our time.

 

I’m sorry. I really, really am, but no. Just no.

When I was about fifteen, I took an after-school philosophy class, and Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder was our first text. It was heavy, slow, and full of info-dumping, but I loved it. At one point, after a fight with my mother, I went and lay in an empty lot and read that book for three hours and made little progress because the subjects covered required a lot thinking on the reader’s part. But I didn’t care. I loved it. And when I heard about The World According to Anna, I was unbelievably excited.

It’s a book about global warming and the damage people have done, and are still doing to this planet. Great!

It’s aimed at young adults, so it will be accessible to the people coming up in the world, who will be the next ones in charge. Great!

It’s full of cardboard characters and has no character or plot development. Gr- wait, what?

 

That’s right. This wonderful idea of a book accessible for teens, about topics so very important to focus on now, was lost among the shitty story. SUCH a shitty, shitty story.

It’s convoluted:

Anna will turn sixteen on 12.12.2012, and two days before she has a dream where she is looking through the eyes of her great-grandaughter, Nova, while Nova is talking to her great-grandmother, Nana. Nana is Anna. Anna is Nana.

The characters are ridiculous:

Nana comes to Nova, planning to tell her about the birds she remembers from her childhood. We get the feeling that they often discuss the animals… but at the same time we kinda get the feeling that these two have never spoken to each other before.

Nova demands that Nana return the animals to the planet, that she be allowed to grow up with the animals her great-grandmother did, on a planet that had the potential to be saved. Because that’s a reasonable thing to ask of a person. Nova doesn’t know that Anna is seeing this exchange. We find out later that Nova planned to chase her great-grandmother into the forest and kill her if she didn’t change the past somehow.

Anna makes the demand that her boyfriend come up with a way to save 1001 animals and plants from extinction before they meet. A meeting she is leaving for then, at a place to which he has further to travel. If he doesn’t have an answer by the time they see each other, she will dump him.

Anna sees a psychologist a few times, and is referred to a psychiatrist. Not only does this psychiatrist give her a clean bill of mental health after only one session (which they spend talking about global warming, and not her mental state), but he also gives her his personal number and tells her to call or email if there’s anything she’d like to talk about. They have a few clunky conversations throughout the book.

The dialogue is downright awful and the characters jump to strange conclusions, seemingly just so Gaarder doesn’t have to bother with this silly conversation stuff anymore (and I understand that this could, in part, be down to a translation issue, but it’s so wooden and horrible, and the general essence of the conversation doesn’t flow like a normal conversation does.):

‘Perhaps the world can have another chance…’
Little old Nana. What is she burbling on about now? But she says it in such an enticing way that Nova is carried along.
‘What do you mean?’ she whispers.  ‘A miracle?’
There is a glint in Nana’s eye. She nods firmly then smiles.
They are friends now. Nana was sixteen once, too. Who hasn’t been?
But what can they do? She looks at the blood-red walls and up to Nana in her blue kimono: ‘Perhaps we can shout back through time and tell the people who lived before us to show a bit of consideration? We just have to make sure we shout loudly enough for them to hear.’
The old lady shakes her head: ‘That’s impossible. But I think I know another way.’
‘Go on. Is it something supernatural?’
‘I don’t know, my child. Perhaps it’s the most natural thing in the world.’
A smile spreads across Nova’s face. ‘I think I understand,’ she says. ‘You’re going to try and make contact with the people who lived on Earth before us, so you can warn them. You’re going to show them what the future will look like if they don’t stop exploiting nature. Come on, Nana. Is that what you’re going to do?’
The old lady nods mysteriously.

For those playing at home, this dialogue is on the page just after Nova was planning on killing her great-grandmother. And after this dream-sequence, the reader is given pages of Anna recapping what she had seen in her dream.

There were things in this story that didn’t add up:

Anna inherits a ring from her great-aunt, supposedly a magical ring that dates all the way back to the time of Aladdin. This could very well be a magical ring with three wishes, though two are rumoured to have been used up.
Nana is wearing the ring in the first part of the dream, and Nova notices it and is sure it’s connected to whatever amazing thing her Nana is going to do to fix the world, and Anna comes to the same conclusion. Maybe it is the ring that allows Anna to see through Nova’s eyes.
But then… how is it that an Arab boy (because the book uses the word Arab a lot, and this Arab boy, though potentially Nova’s lover/husband/partner in future scenes, is never give a name. Just “the Arab boy”.) gives the mysterious ring to Nana, when Nana is 86 years old? How is it  the same ring?!

Basically, at the end of this 211 page novel, which this reviewer found an incredibly frustrating read, only one conclusion can be made; while Gaarder has a lot of good ideas, and wants to get his philosophies out there and reach a wider audience, the story was actually the undoing of this book.

None of the scenes or characters or events were well fleshed out (okay, it’s only 200 pages long, that’s not so many pages to flesh out an idea like this), yet Gaarder threw in scenes that were not needed, rehashing a dream so that the reader could not be mistaken about the tiniest part of it, and including scenes that added… very little to the story, if anything at all.

He tried to make it too complex for its own good, and as a result left a lot of ends loose. He tried to bring us a story that transcended time and delivered an important message, but he used up all his energy on the big picture, and none on the little people we’re supposed to become attached to and care about.

And one has to wonder at the decision to make the time of great change 12.12.2012, beyond the aesthetic. This was apparently the time that action needed to be taken if the world was going to be saved, but we’re already past that. In fact, we were already past that when this book was published in other languages for the first time, in 2013.

If this is supposed to be a fable for the soon-to-be rulers of our world, why set it in the past? By doing so, you’re just adding in another reason for them to feel they can’t do anything to help.

The book makes some interesting suggestions as to how to fix things, and it does make the reader more aware of the situation with regards to endangered animals, and the process behind climate change, but as a story it’s just downright sloppy. It would have made a better read as an essay, without all the cardboard people getting in the way.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The World According to Anna by Jostein Gaarder

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