The novel is set in Madrid and on the unspoiled Fijian island of Taveuini. Frank Andersen, a Norwegian evolutionary biologist who feels "oppressed by the grief that the lack of spirit and permanence in our existence brings", meets up with a beautiful Spanish Flamenco dancer, Ana, her companion Jose, and an English writer from Croydon, John Spoke. They then discuss the big issues. This is where the problem arises; there is too much discussion of ideas and not enough emotional involvement or development of characters. They exist merely as mouthpieces for different theories. Gaarder then adds a bewildering supernatural dimension. There is Ana and Jose's manifesto, a mystical dialogue that describes the creation and evolution process in a series of self-consciously obscure metaphors to consider; hints of past lives; a time-travelling dwarf; and an enigmatic photograph. All this excitement sits uneasily with the almost pedantic prose style.