The veil of illusion

‘La maja desnuda’ by Francisco Goya, Prado Museum.

Maya by Jostein Gaarder.
Translated by James Anderson.
Phoenix House, Orion Books, 2000 (1999).

‘Everything is connected,’ José said.

‘Bellis perennis’

Where to begin when discussing a Jostein Gaarder novel? Do we start with the principal characters as suits our expectations for a work of fiction? Or do we begin the big philosophical concepts that Gaarder’s novels  almost always seem to focus on? Or is this a false choice given that humans are, as one character here suggests, ‘hyperindividualistic master-mammals’ blessed or cursed with a capacity for thinking big thoughts?

The apparent ambiguity comes when a group of visitors from different nations – Australia, Spain, England, Norway, Italy, the US – find themselves thrown together on a Fijian island anticipating the approaching new millennium. (Pedant that I am, that changeover point actually arrived at the end of 2000, not the beginning, but no matter.)

Near the 180° date-line, where you can have one foot planted in what will be yesterday and the other in what would be tomorrow, one of the narrators at a resort muses ‘Wasn’t it a bit strange that almost all the guests at the Maravu went round talking about the same thing?’ And this indeed is the central enigma that the reader also tries to fathom, continually foiled by a jester-suited figure.

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