Friday, 8 January 2016

Book Review: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson



Title: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
Author: Jonas Jonasson
Publisher: Abacus Books
Publication Date: 9 July 2015

Blog/Website: http://jonasjonasson.com/

Rating: 4 out of 5

Blurb

Sitting quietly in his room in an old people's home, Allan Karlsson is waiting for a party he doesn't want to begin. His one-hundredth birthday party to be precise. The Mayor will be there. The press will be there. But, as it turns out, Allan will not . . .

Escaping (in his slippers) through his bedroom window, into the flowerbed, Allan makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, Allan's earlier life is revealed. A life in which - remarkably - he played a key role behind the scenes in some of the momentous events of the twentieth century.

Review

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is the 2009 bestselling debut novel from Swedish writer, Jonas Jonasson.

I must first admit that it took me 2 years (!!!) to finish The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. I know this is an excessive amount of time and most people would have given up. However, I had read the great reviews and was worried that by giving up, I may miss out on a masterpiece! All-in-all, I am glad to say that my determination won out and, after working my way through the first half, the book then started to draw me in until I was actually enjoying reading it and struggled to put it down.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is the bizarre and imaginative tale of centenarian explosives expert and vodka-lover, Allan Karlsson, who climbs out of his bedroom window at the old people’s home on his 100th birthday and sets off with no set destination in mind. A chance meeting at the bus station leads to Karlsson stealing a suitcase full of money and embarking on an adventure (or rather a misadventure) with a crazy bunch of newly acquired friends, Julius Jonsson, Benny Ljungberg and Gunilla Bjorklund, whilst they flee from motorcycle gangsters, ineffectual criminals and the police, all the while accompanied by a pet circus elephant, Sonya.

The friends unintentionally leave a trail of destruction behind them

After struggling greatly with the first half, the story then picks up pace and becomes a fantastic satire on the imperfections of international relations over the past century.

The chapters flip between Karlsson’s current predicament and the incredible tale of his earlier life, recounting the critical role he has unwittingly played in some of the greatest historical events of the 20th century, including inventing the atom bomb, the Spanish Civil War, meetings with President Truman, Nixon, Stalin, Franco, General Mao Tse Tung, journeys on camels and submarines and a friendship with Herbert Einstein, the hapless fictional half-brother of Albert Einstein.

This adventure would usually be too much for someone of such an advanced age, however for Karlsson it is merely another chapter in a very unique life. The story of Karlsson’s fantastical life is told in a very straight forward tone, underlining the complete indifference Karlsson demonstrates in relation to much beyond his own immediate thoughts, and that his involvement in those historical events was merely a means to an end for the stoic centenarian.

I have seen people describe the book as having a ‘Forrest Gump’ feel to it and I understand that sentiment as the quirky and eccentric hero stumbles through life unwittingly changing the world on his way!

Karlsson is not a hugely endearing character, however he is very interesting to read about. The same applies to the supporting characters, whilst maybe not people I want to befriend, they do make for a good story. The gangsters and criminals, including Per-Gunnar Gerdin, and the burnt-out and lonely policeman, Chief Inspector Aronsson, make great foils for the hapless heroes.

The writing style is interesting. There is a lot of reported speech, rather than first hand speech, making me feel as though I was watching Karlsson’s life through a window, rather than being sat next to him. This can put distance between the reader and the characters, however, I thought that worked well in this instance, given the nature of the story and the fact that the book was looking back over sections of Karlsson’s life, almost like watching old home movies.

The book demonstrates a great degree of charm and humour. Jonasson has spun a very clever tale and a fantastic re-telling of world history. It is absurd and silly, yet a joy to read. A true example of growing old disgracefully! I honestly cannot remember reading another book that has turned my opinion so thoroughly within the space of a few chapters. I can see that this book may not be for everyone, however I stuck with it and ultimately found it to be a rewarding read.

I think this is a ‘marmite’ book, one which can completely divide opinion between readers. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the book and why you did/did not enjoy it!

About the Author

Jonas Jonasson was born in the city of Växjö in southern Sweden in 1961.

Jonas first started writing when he was working as a journalist for a number of Swedish newspapers. He subsequently went on to start his own production company. After several years in the media industry, Jonas felt the urge to do something else. That was when the character of Allan Karlsson came to him and he started to write his first novel The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a huge international success and has been published in 42 countries, selling more than eight million copies worldwide. In 2013 the book was turned into a major motion picture.

The international success was repeated with Jonasson’s second novel The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, and his third novel Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All will be published in September 2015.

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