The World According to Anna
Orion Publishing Group
Pub Date: 12 November 2015
I’ve been a fan of Jostein Gaarder from the first moment I read ‘Sophie’s World’ in the mid 90s. It is still a book I like a lot (and not just because of its unfailing ability to start arguments over its merits between anyone with a Philosophy degree). He has always been an author that brilliantly bridges the gap between young adult and adult fiction.
His latest book ‘The World According to Anna’ is a climate change fable.
Two days shy of her 16th birthday (12 December) Anna is a young girl committed to environmental protection. She’s angry. She also has a lively imagination in which she becomes her own grand-daughter in 2086, in a world where climate change has proven to be true and much of the worlds natural resources are depleted and most of its wildlife and fauna extinct. How could you do this to me, the future Anna (Nova) asks her ‘grandmother’. With the help of her boyfriend, Jonas, she decides she has to take action to prevent the future she has ‘seen’.
Meanwhile Anna has also been taken, by her parents, to see a psychiatrist. They are worried about her ‘visions’. He befriends her after saying that there is nothing physically or mentally wrong with her. He too is interested in climate change as his daughter, Esther, who works for the World Food Programme, has been kidnapped in Somalia. This incident, we are told, is linked to political turmoil caused by climate change.
The idea of climate change is of course quite a good topic for a novel, in fact it has been close to Gaarder’s heart for many years. He and his wife established an environment award, the Sophie Prize, which each year since 1997 has rewarded a person who has made special efforts to create awareness about climate change and the environment, with $100,000 See more at: http://climatesafety.info/authors-and-global-warming-why-dont-they-care/#sthash.BElDAyIw.dpuf So he has certainly put his money where his mouth is on the subject. But, there is a fine line – even when aimed at young adults, which this book clearly is – between involving and informing and being too preachy and lecturing. For me, even as a believer, this book is more the latter than the former.
Worst than that however, I didn’t buy into any of the characters. None of the characters seemed remotely believable to me. I didn’t believe in Anna or anyone else. They just felt like empty vessels to deliver a lecture on climate change. Indeed had they been more believable maybe I would have felt less lectured to?
This is not to dismiss the predictions, ideas or some of the comments made in the book. I liked (if that’s the right word) the vision of the future where people had to hand pollinate fruit trees because bees are extinct – the evidence for harm to bee populations is evident even now; I liked the cutting down of a forest to build a wind farm; and I loved the satirical and cutting dig at emissions trading schemes. I even liked some of the proposals for the solution – as espoused in the book by Jonas. But. As a novel it didn’t really work for me.
Even great writers are allowed the occasional dud, and this for me is one of Gaarder’s. A shame as I have a friend whose birthday it is on 12th December, and had this been better this would have a been a great gift.
Review copy supplied by Orion/Netgalley