Thursday, July 4, 2013

Book Review - The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared

The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared – Jonas Jonasson


Every now and then I get the urge to read a novel in the comedy genre. I do my research and the books that are highly regarded and where reviewers state they “laughed out loud on the train,” or found the book “simply hilarious.” I often find mildly amusing in parts at best.
Jonas Jonasson’s novel is a prime example of such a novel. The book has received numerous positive reviews (although there are one or two negative as well). Would this be the novel to break the mould and make me laugh so hard my sides ache?
The blurb:
It all starts on the one-hundredth birthday of Allan Karlsson. Sitting quietly in his room in an old people's home, he is waiting for the party he-never-wanted-anyway to begin. The mayor is going to be there. The press is going to be there. But, as it turns out, Allan is not...Slowly but surely Allan climbs out of his bedroom window, into the flowerbed (in his slippers) and 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, we learn something of Allan's earlier life in which - remarkably - he helped to make the atom bomb, became friends with American presidents, Russian tyrants, and Chinese leaders, and was a participant behind the scenes in many key events of the twentieth century.
Allan Karlsson is a very likeable character. At 100 years old, he is so laid back you can’t help admire his attitude to life. He has been there and seen everything there is to see.  What starts out as an impulsive decision, slowly escalates into a full scale incident that involves: police and drug lords. 
The negative reviews moan at how unrealistic the novel is. I am not going to pretend these reviews are incorrect. The situations Allan finds himself in are truly absurd, how it gets out of the incidents is equally preposterous. Allan experiences the sublime to ridiculous as he encounters coincidence after coincidence, interacting with chance characters that are all linked tenuously.
It is the affection with which Jonas describes Allan that makes the novel endearing and allows the reader to enjoy the story rather than worry about the semantics of the tale. He is unflustered by anything that occurs to him, either in the present day or the flashbacks we see of various stages of his life.
The characters he interacts with are equally absorbing. It is unrealistic how they all seem to share Allan’s detached view of life and happily change the direction of their own lives at the drop of a heart beat but again it is part of the charm of the story. The dialogue is very snappy and reminiscent of Terry Pratchett which is definitely not a bad thing.
However, eventually the happy coincidences do start to wear a little thin. Allan is always saved by a last minute phone call or intervention. What starts of as whimsical slowly becomes a little monotonous.
However, the major drawback of the novel is the aforementioned flashback chapters. These interrupt the main chapters and have no relation to the current storyline other than to tell us of Allan’s life. They are wildly hit and miss in content and enjoyment. They are also extremely samey. For example, Allan is recruited by a political leader/famous president to build a bomb. When this doesn’t work out he escapes via sheer good fortune rather than ingenuity. Again implausible and monotonous.
Whereas before the unrealistic nature of the story did not bother me, the fact that events of Allan’s life are not very interesting means they begin to annoy. They are always accompanied by a rehash of the political situation in the region at the time. Allan himself recalls how politics bores him so it is a wonder that Jonas would think readers would find it interesting as well. Quite often a character would have ranted about the current climate etc and Allan would state that he was bored by politics and therefore not listening. I echoed the sentiment.
They are not all bad though. The escape from prison using a cup of coffee is entertaining as is the stupidity of Herbert Einstein. It is just a shame that they interrupt the pace of the novel.
All in all, I enjoyed Jonas Johansson’s novel. It didn’t quite change my opinions on comedy novels but it was definitely better than most I’ve read.
My rating: 7.9
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