Book Review: Sophie's World

Imogen Scott-Chambers reviews Gaarder's novel 'Sophie's World'

30th November 2015
Imogen Scott-Chambers reviews Gaarder's novel 'Sophie's World'

Perhaps the single quote “Wisest is she who knows, she does not know” taken from Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, mirrors the profundity of the whole novel. Sophie’s World is both a literary and philosophical masterpiece, it intertwines theory, fact, imagery and honesty seamlessly to produce a page turner appropriate for people of all ages, and for people with different levels of philosophical skill.

The book begins with the main character, Sophie Amundsen, a 14 year old Norwegian girl, receiving two letters and a post card addressed to someone else: Hilde Møller Knag and in true Alice in Wonderland style, she is curious to discover who Hilde really is, and so is the reader.

Shortly after this, she receives a package of philosophical papers; they are part of a course in Philosophy. The philosophy intrigues and enthralls her (as it would anyone) and she receives daily, sometimes weekly, questions and then explanations on certain types of philosophy. At first she is unsure as to whom exactly is corresponding with her, but in time it transpires that it is a wise and knowledgeable philosopher named Alberto Knox.

“The story is also host to many different these such as the nature of free will, religion and the importance of dreams”

The book is a bildungsroman in many respects; Sophie grows through her philosophical teaching and her relationship with Alberto. In the beginning of the novel she has an astute air of innocence but as the reader grows philosophically along with her, she is becoming more mature and wise in each chapter. The story is also host to many different these such as the nature of free will, religion and the importance of dreams which makes the book constantly engaging rather than a book to read to pass the time, it is totally engrossing.

The characters develop well and are lovable, especially Sophie who is relatable in her struggling to tackle difficult concepts and be a 14-year-old girl at the same time. Sophie’s mother is also a successful character in the book, we all know someone like her. Alberto Knox’s role as a teacher is interesting, he seems reminiscent of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, wise but not condescending and he plays a significant role throughout. One slight issue with the novel is the ending. The ending may leave some readers unsatisfied, and it is interesting to consider different endings in place of the one chosen by Gaarder. In some ways it doesn’t reflect the beauty of the rest of the story.

“Everyone should question everything, and you should never surrender the fight for true knowledge”

The book is exceptionally clever in that, not only is it a story within a story (slight spoiler alert) but it takes the reader through a brief, accurate and succinct history of philosophy. For anyone who hasn’t studied philosophy it will give you the basic core philosophical theories that will probably intrigue you enough to read more. For anyone who has studied philosophy, it will refresh your memory and reignite your passion for questioning the world around you. The boldest and best message embedded in the novel is that: everyone can be a philosopher, everyone should question everything and you should never surrender the fight for true knowledge.

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