Small Talk: Jostein Gaarder

Norwegian novelist Jostein Gaarder, 57, shot to international fame with his third novel Sophie’s World (1991), a philosophical tale told through the eyes of a teenage girl. The book has since sold more than 30m copies worldwide. Born and educated in Oslo, Norway, Gaarder moved to Bergen in 1981 where he taught literature and philosophy before becoming a full-time writer. He lives in Oslo with his wife and two sons.

Who is your perfect reader?

I think about my editor when I write. She’s a good friend too.

What books are on your bedside table?

Books about natural science, astrophysics and the history of evolution of life on earth – I read these even before bed. I want to understand more about the world while I’m still here.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

At 19, when I met my wife. I’d thought about it earlier but I made the decision to do it when I fell in love. I could hear the birds more clearly than before.

Which literary character most resembles you?

Hans Castorp in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. He’s naive and wants to understand things. He’s not afraid of asking silly questions.

Who are your literary influences?

Jorge Luis Borges, Dostoevsky, Herman Hesse and the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun – not that I think I can write like these authors. I’m also inspired by books written for adults and children: AA Milne, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Dickens, and 19th-century Norwegian folk tales.

What is your daily writing routine?

No day is alike – I do many other things and I’m very active in the environmental movement. I wrote Sophie’s World in three months but I was only writing and sleeping. I work for 14 hours a day when I’m working on a book.

What book changed your life?

There are two: Lillelord [1955] by a Norwegian writer called Johan Borgen and Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, when I was 18. That book can make a boy a man.

What are you scared of?

Global climate change is the greatest challenge that we as human beings are standing in front of right now.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

My latest novel, The Castle in the Pyrenees, takes place in a branch of the largest fjord in Norway. There’s a village under the glacier called Sognefjord, where there’s an old wooden hotel. I used to write there.

Jostein Gaarder’s latest novel is ‘The Castle in the Pyrenees’ (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

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