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The Castle in the Pyrenees by Jostein Gaarder

The severance between us was surgical, and there was no anaesthetic…

Solrun and Steinn, two fifty-something former lovers, run into each other some thirty years after a fateful event has driven them apart. It is by coincidence that their encounter takes place at the hotel where they took their refuge many years ago.

Can we make a solemn promise to delete every email we send each other after we’ve read them? I mean straight away, right then and there, and that naturally means no printouts either.

I see this new contact as a stream of though vibrating between two souls rather than an exchange of correspondence which will be there between us forever. But a bonus would be that we could allow ourselves to write about everything.

The entire book is a string of email correspondences but written in a way that people don’t normally would because of the influx of philosophical and metaphysical exchange. Their e-mails hint at something terrible that had happened, something so terrible that shook them so badly and that make is impossible for the two lovers to remain together. They ended their relationship without a proper closure.

Steinn and Solrun, both married someone else and had children in later years. Yet throughout the years they have never completely forgotten each other.  When they met again, there was an impulse to get in touch again to seek closure to what happened when they met the “Lingonberry woman” who wears a pink shawl and smiles benevolently at them.

Kjosfossen waterfall, where they saw the nymph

The e-mails are quite philosophical, the atheistic climatologist and the Christian teacher passionately argue their beliefs about telepathy, soul after life and the existence of God in their emails as well as relating the theories to their relationship. How long can they keep this up without meeting again? Would they agree to meet at the end?

I read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder about 13 years ago and with that fond memory of the book I went on to read The Orange Girl and this book. Everything else since Sophie’s World had failed to inspire or excite me and I’m wondering if this is because I have grew up or Gaarder’s magic had waned?

The Castle in the Pyrenees doesn’t appeal to me at the philosophical level but the love story and trying to find out the significance of what happen on that fateful day is. Reading the book is a mix mesh of feeling intrigued, thought-provoking, bored and reminiscence.

The elements most interest me and what I don’t want to repeat where another blogger Chinoiseries had said it so eloquently is this:

The failed love affair is a bittersweet tragedy, described in detail, like a novella. Solrun types away at all hours of the day, while her husband tries to hide his jealousy and their children wonder why she can’t just spend the last days of their vacation with them. Steinn lies to Berit (his wife) about leaving for the mountains in order to write articles. In the recounting of their love story, it is evident that they were ripped apart by it, made complete strangers to each other, yet found it unbearable to be without the other. It is this pain of leaving a life with a loved one, a necessary break-up that is logical on a rational level but incomprehensible to our emotional selves, that is so recognizable. Gaarder hardly gives us hope that his protagonists will become lovers again. They are sensible grown-ups, with spouses they love, so naturally friendship is all they can have. The reader will however sense the accumulation of pent-up feelings and wonder how long the proverbial lid will hold.

The final chapter was the great finale of all as the truth is revealed and Steinn and Solrun have decided upon an action. Also there was an unexpected writer of the email which brings everything to a close. I thought that was very clever but because I have lost the train of thoughts and got bored in the middle of the book that when the final chapter finally came in, I lost the highs that many readers would have gotten out of it.

Bergen, the gateway to the fjord district of Norway 

The conclusion I can draw is that there is always a heighten romanticism surrounding a reunion of two former lovers. With all the What-could-have-beens and the what-if’s, the present partner and mundane family life pale in comparison to the memory of youth and passionate love. However, time has proven to be a cruel alteration of what it used to be and that once you left someone behind in your past, it is best that they stay buried in your past for good. Trying to “time-travelled” and bring what is past to your present upsets the continuation of life and most likely it will end up hurting a lot of people along the way.

As you would expect from Gaarder’s books, it is always multi-layered, a story within a story, philosophical and educational. If you love philosophy you will enjoy the book more than I do, otherwise the reading experience would most likely be like mine; intrigued at the beginning, bored at the middle and hooked on it at the end of the book.


I am the one who is left after her loss, I’m the one that must fill that role, and I ask for your forbearance when I say that I want no further contact with you after this. – writer undisclosed to avoid spoiler. 

Have you read any of Jostein Gaarder’s book? I’m thinking of not reading any of his books but do you feel there is one that I should read?

I’m reading this for Zee’s Scandinavian Challenge.

Hardback. Length: 250 pages. Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Source: Westminster Library. Setting: 1970’s and contemporary Norwegian Fjord landscape and mountains, City of Bergen and Oslo. Finished reading at: 17th August 2011. Translated from Norwegian by James Anderson.

Other views:

Find out a little more about the types of philosophical subjects they discussed in the book:

Chinoiseries: I would like to add that this could be a very interesting read for anyone interested in one or more of the layers in this book. Just be warned that the philosophical parts are not always a good read

Find out from Winston’s dad how the book got its title:

Winston’s Dad: This is a book I ll reread at some point to get the full measure and see if after a passage of time it has the same effect on me .This is an example of where metafiction tricks work loads small stories with in the complete story

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


12 thoughts on “The Castle in the Pyrenees by Jostein Gaarder

  1. OMG, this sounds like it strikes so close to potential home that I don’t know if I could read it! I love the passage you quoted, and the pictures are beautiful. But it sounds so bittersweet! I have to be in a position of emotional strength before I tackle one of those! :–)

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | August 26, 2011, 11:42 am
    • Jill, It does bring up bittersweet memories for many who walk the rite of passage of falling in love and growing up! I think Norway is a beautiful country with the fjords and all, I’ll be interested to visit it one day. I hope you read it one day and I’ll be interested to hear what you think about it. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | August 26, 2011, 7:57 pm
  2. I have one somewhere, but haven’t read it yet. I’m a bit intimidated 🙂

    Posted by Bina | August 27, 2011, 6:11 pm
  3. thanks for the mention ,I agree it dipped in middle a bit but lioke his other books made you think ,all the best stu stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | August 28, 2011, 11:23 am
  4. I have always enjoyed reading Sophie’s World, from what I remember. And I have also been disappointed by the rest of the author’s books.

    This one sounds interesting, from what I read here. Perhaps I shall give it a try!

    Posted by Wilfrid Wong | August 30, 2011, 9:18 am
    • Wilfrid,
      I look forward to hear what you think about it. It is quite interesting I would say.. but the magic of Sophie’s World had waned a little but still worth a try this one.

      Posted by JoV | August 30, 2011, 8:35 pm
  5. This book looks quite interesting, Jo! Reminds me of a book called ‘Love Virtually’ by Daniel Glattauer, which I read sometime back. (It was also told through emails). Have you read this? The pictures of Norway that you have posted are very beautiful!

    Posted by Vishy | September 1, 2011, 5:42 am


  1. Pingback: It’s a Wrap! August 2011 « Bibliojunkie - September 2, 2011

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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