Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Hundred-Year-Old Man That Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The Hundred-Year-Old Man 
That Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Jonas Jonasson

"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. Already a huge bestseller across Europe, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is a fun feel-good book for all ages."

I’ll just say this, at the price this book is currently at on the kindle store this book is a must buy, stop reading this and go buy it this instant.

This is a very entertaining novel, one that took me by surprise after a recommendation from an unexpected source, I found myself fighting back laughter at certain scenes and unable to put the book down, the bizarre adventure of Allan Karlsson and his jail break/cross country road-trip on his 100th birthday being one of the most original tales I’ve read in a while.

That said, the book is not without its flaws.
Generally chapters alternate between Allan’s current adventure and his impressive life story from his birth, through his time in the Spanish civil and second world wars.
It is in these latter chapters where most of the problems lie.
The chapters set in the present are by far the most enjoyable of their book and their short punchy style works really well in telling a story of a character so incredible impulsive.
The chapters set in the past are gargantuan by comparison and rattle on for far too long, I have no problem with long chapters but here it feels too much like they detract too much from the part of the story I wanted to read.

We learn that throughout his life Allan has met, and most usually drank copious amounts of vodka with nearly every important historical figure of the last hundred years. During these chapters we see interactions with General Franco, Chairman Mao, Kim-Il-Sung and Kim-Jong-Il, Stalin, Presidents Truman and Nixon and a scattering of others.
This kind of story, in which a single character has been responsible for vast historical changes, has been told before but here I just don’t feel it works.
The main problem is that Allan is a reactive character as opposed to a proactive one. These events all seem simply to fall into his lap with him taking little control over them. I lost count of the number of times he escaped from a life or death situation as the result of luck or coincidence. Even in the rare moments he does take charge it still feels as if the eventual solution to whatever problem he  faces lies just out width his grasp.
This lack of self motivation reduces these chapters in places to a simple list of Allan did this then this happened and then that happened. It doesn’t feel like a story.
There’s also  an uncomfortable feeling running through these chapters as Allan, finds himself responsible for several great historical atrocities and never seems to care. Without going into details of his actions, the body count as a result of his input must  rank in the thousands, maybe skirting the tens of thousands.
There’s so much blood on his hands and not once does he show any remorse or even that he’s aware of what he is responsible for.

All the while this is happening we’re supposed to be routing for the naïve man drifting peacefully through life but this just didn’t wash with me.
Personally I feel this book would work better as a novella, cutting loose the back story and sticking to the chapters set in the present which are brilliant, well written and very funny. The other chapters really contribute little to the book overall which is a shame as they take up the majority of the text.

Like I said however, the book is currently selling at a bargain price and it’s worth every penny of it. Just don’t be afraid to skip bits.

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