Despite the title, there’s not a castle in sight here. The novel revolves around the relationship of two middle-aged Norwegians who have recently come back into contact after 30 years of silence; the story progresses as the characters first establish who they have become, before delving into the unspoken mysteries surrounding the reasons why they broke up. In true Gaarder form, the male protagonist is a staunch scientific atheist, while his counterpart is a highly spiritual Christian.
What follows is an examination of the merits of the conflicting ideologies, with a little bit of astro-physical analysis thrown in for good measure. Gaarder takes a little while to really get the ball rolling, but in the last 50 pages the story comes alive as the pair tumble towards a conclusion on what exactly happened 30 years ago.
What distinguishes this book, however, is that the entire story is composed through a series of email exchanges between the pair. At first the style can be disconcerting, yet before long this transforms into a sense of near-gratuitous indulgence as you become privy to what is a very real and highly personal exchange between two people.
Gaarder’s style of constantly jumping between lecturing and storytelling is not for everyone. But if you’re a fan of his 1991 novel, Sophie’s World, or anything by Bill Bryson, this is definitely worth a read.