You might think he could have made up his mind earlier, and been man enough to tell the others of his decision.
When The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared hit the charts it stood out in stepping away from the Swedish bestseller norm of pure crime and murder and instead offered up a whimsical tale of a centenarian adventurer (complete with elephant).
There doesn’t seem to be more one can add to the totally Ronseal premise of the book. Allan Karlsson, our protagonist, decides to escape from his mundane life in an old people’s home on the afternoon of his 100th birthday by climbing out of his bedroom window. And yet Jonas Jonasson’s debut novel takes a basic idea and manipulates it into a hugely entertaining world of escapism, twists, turns and a life on the run.
The narrative styling is fun, weaving two main storylines together as we follow both Karlsson’s 45-day geriatric adventure alongside the escapades he had during his 100 year life. In this light-hearted surrealist novel we encounter an array of eccentric characters from a criminal gang to every major political leader in the 20th century.
Allan himself is a brilliantly passive protagonist in that things happen to him; he is in the right place at the right time – all the time! This premise could, in another authors’ hands, take its toll, become dull and develop into a string of predictable episodes but Jonasson develops his narrative and character so well that the momentum is maintained from start to finish. Jonasson’s novel isn’t an experiment in literary genius but it is fun with a capital f (sorry…Fun) and blends the past with the present, the ludicrous with the historical and humour with fast-paced crime with apparent ease.
I can understand how some readers may be totally lost when buying into the ‘coincidental’ events of Karlsson’s life. A young Kim Jong Il sobbing on his lap and getting plastered with Truman when he’s notified of Roosevelt death are two such events of the ridiculous and yet I loved the silliness. I think that in the case of this novel the reader has to buy into the ridiculous to allow the story to sing. Once you do, it certainly does.
There have been a lot of comparisons made between The Hundred-Year-Old Man and Forrest Gump but unfortunately as I haven’t read Forrest Gump, or seen the film for that matter, I couldn’t possibly comment on the similarities. However if FG makes me smile as much as The Hundred-Year-Old Man then I will certainly add it to my list as a future read.