Who else wants to take a trip all the way from Norway to Greece to search for their long lost mother?
Well, the father son duo of Jostein Gaardner’s novel, The Solitaire Mystery, sure did that.
Hans Thomas and his father come across their mother’s photo on a magazine cover and they decide to (after a lucky draw win) take a car ride across Europe to bring back their mother who had left several years ago to search for her own self.
But that is not where the story starts.
It starts a long time ago with Frode’s playing cards when he got shipwrecked onto a magical island in the middle of nowhere where he made his own characters come out from his own imagination.
Let’s take a step back.
So The Solitaire Mystery is mainly about the trip. Yet their journey has many layers. The duo meet a strange dwarf who gives Hans Thomas a magnifying glass out of the blue and then directs them to a village called Dorf where Hans Thomas meets a baker who gives him a sticky bun where…lo behold there is a tiniest of the tiniest book where words are so small that he needs to use the magnifying glass that was luckily given to him by that dwarf.
Coincidence? I think not!
In that story in the book in the sticky bun book, there is a different story about a baker in Dorf who had met the former baker of Dorf who told him a story about a magic island and a unique drink found only there.
While on his epic road trip to find his mother, he secretly reads that book, away from the prying eyes of his philosophical father.
Don’t get me wrong, his father is the most supportive one you will see, who believes in the mystery of life and the need to be curious and often lectures Hans on his famous cigarette stops about philosophies of the world from Socrates’ famous, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing,” to ideas about the Delphic Oracles.
Strangely enough, the story within that book has many similarities to Hans Thomas’ own life as well as to his family’s history which is quite out of the ordinary where his own grandma had an affair with a Nazi soldier who was stationed in their hometown.
Coincidence again? Again I think not since the entire story is one big puzzle that is fraught with many connections.
So what or who is Frode and how are his pack of cards related to anything? Perhaps it is not my place to divulge that secret and ruin the story. But you will notice how the entire novel is structured like a pack of cards, with 52 chapters and names of the chapters falling into one of the five packs. And The Joker makes special appearances too.
The Solitaire Mystery is a brilliant story about a unique father-son bond over a mesmerising road journey that will teach you a little bit about life and history and travel. With a unique story within a story narrative style, the story is almost like a magic realist plot that has so many connections with the actual plot. You will be busy connecting the dots and getting lost in the maze of the several well layered story lines and it will feel as if eating a many layered cake. Along the way, you will also get to vicariously travel with the duo and travel back in time to Hans’ stories about his grandfather and travel to a mysterious island and experience the baker’s stories just as Hans does sitting at the back of his father’s car.
After all that effort and fun and travel, The Solitaire Mystery, ends on such a wonderfully happy note that it does make you question just as the end of the novel, “Who are you? Where do we come from?”