Confused, preachy and incredibly disappointing. 2/5 stars.
The blurb: On the 20th anniversary of SOPHIE’S WORLD, Jostein Gaarder returns with a spell-binding fable about a girl who begins to receive messages from another time…
When sixteen-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, in a wasteland peopled by ragged 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.
It’s twenty years since Sophie’s World was published. I love that book and have read it a few times. If you ever want to understand the main ideas of the major Western philosophers by having those ideas explained to you in an original and entertaining way, I recommend it.
So I came to The World According to Anna with extremely high expectations. All the marketing blurb sets this book up as the “heir” to Sophie’s World and I was expecting great things. I am beyond disappointed. This disappointment will be patently obvious in my review which, I admit, becomes ranty in places.
In the interest of fairness, the intentions behind the book are noble. I applaud its aim: tell a story which gets across important messages about global warming and species conservation in a way which will engage and inspire a teenage audience. Unfortunately, I doubt it achieves its goal because the writing style, story structure and content are incredibly off-putting. Rather than motivating its readers to protect the planet, I imagine many of them would happily burn this book and get a cheeky thrill out of the consequent CO2 emissions.
The writing style is irritatingly jarring. A series of short sentences. Sentences which repeat the same points. Something happens. Then it is explained back to us. Then explained again in case the first recap was insufficient.
If you found that last paragraph slightly annoying, imagine that sort of unrelenting staccato over 200 pages. As if this weren’t enough, the book is a composite of short bits of narrative interspersed with excerpts from fictional essays and articles. These excerpts are dull and don’t fit in. Is this a story or is it an essay? If it’s trying to be both, find a better way to make the more factual reportage blend into the narrative. Every time we were yanked out of the story as Anna read yet another “interesting” list of facts, I was reminded of the soul-crushingly dull bit in 1984 when Orwell takes a long detour to have Winston read a chunk from the treatise on the proletariat (or whatever it is exactly, my brain switched off at that point).
The characters are cardboard cut-out mouthpieces. I know this is supposed to be a modern fable, but even the helper animals in Cinderella get more development than those in The World According to Anna. And the dialogue is George Lucas levels of excruciating.
The plot – what there is of it – makes no sense whatsoever. When it does get across its conservationist messages, it does so by hitting you over the head with them. It doesn’t feel as if the story is trying to motivate us to be part of the solution but instead seeking to make us feel as bad as possible for being part of the problem. And making the reader feel really guilty (at the same time as boring them with a nonsensical narrative filled with 1D characters) is hardly the best way to get them riled up to save the world.
To finish on a positive: clocking in at 240 large print pages, the book is mercifully short.
Overall: if you’re a fan of Gaarder’s previous work, please don’t read this. Help the planet and reduce C02 emissions by not buying this in paperback or in e-format. Walk to your local library and borrow Sophie’s World instead.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul