Book review: The World According to Anna

ENVIRONMENTAL engagement is writ large in this small novel from the writer of the 40-million seller, Sophie’s World. 

This time Jostein Gaarder’s starlet is an almost 16-year-old Norwegian girl troubled by the state of our planet. 

And it might just be the book to spark an environmental conscience in a reader of that age or an even younger teen. 

In essence it is less a novel than a recruiting document — a call to action to stem the tide of damage to the planet.

Gaarder takes as his starting point the often-mentioned duty this generation has to the generations to come and finds a way to create a moral environmental showdown between a 16-year-old in 2012 and her great-granddaughter of 2082.

“I want the world you had at my age. And do you know why? Because you owe me that,” the future child, Nova, tells Anna in the course of a number of apparitions.

Anna sees it as her duty to log the earth’s species and habitats dying out. 

One of the more interesting imaginings of 2082 is a visit to a zoo consisting of free-roaming animals in multiple habitats but it consists entirely of holograms and laser beams with nare a flesh and blood creature left to inhabit it. 

David Attenborough’s documentaries are played as images from a bygone world.

Gaarder is hell-bent on ensuring that no reader will put down this book without being beaten around the head with the reality of the damage done by carbon emissions. 

Visualising our responsibility to each other — in particular to the others not yet born — the writer also conjures a world where the Hague’s great centre of justice now takes the form of an International Climate Court where countries are taken to task for their crimes against the planet.

The impetus behind the book is carried in a line that comes from one of the characters towards the end, “We have to get better at visualising our heirs, better at recognising those who inherit the world.”

As a moral act the book is worthy of credit. 

As an act of generosity it is striking. Sadly, as a book it’s as dead as the Dodo it mourns. 

There is this grim liberalism pervading the book that is so dead-on it is dead as a read.

It has the quality of an imaginative narrative followed by an “And then I woke up punchline” of the precocious school essay writer. 

Nature is rhapsodised yet the pages are toothless and bloodless and the characters fey and wan.

Repetitive to the point of tedium some passages about CO2 emissions and leaving the genie out of the bottle are repeated almost verbatim. 

Not alone does he not serve his work well as a piece of fiction, that should itself be a living thing, but the lacklustre writing does little to enhance the cause he endlessly espouses.

For a story moving between times and into the future there is nothing vague or conjectural, it is precocious and schematic and set out with the certainty of a Saturday afternoon pamphleteer.

Anna goes to a psychiatrist because her folks are concerned about her visions of the future but in one of the many saccharine notes in the book the shrink tells her that she is spectacularly sane emboldening her to come up with her plan to save endangered species — a fund-raising idea set out in copious detail.

Sadly, what comes to mind is the old story of the audience member choking on the icky sweetness of an actress playing Anne Frank on a stage in England until he could take not another moment.

When the Nazis arrived in the house the ailing punter couldn’t help heckling from the stalls, “She’s in the attic.”

The World According to Anna

Jostein Gaarder

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99


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