‘The Hundred Year Old Man Who…’ is the sleeper hit of 2012. It has steadily climbed towards the top of the charts, delighting more and more readers every week. It is the Shawshank Redemption of the book world. (Although strictly, Stephen King’s ‘Different Seasons’ was first to that claim). The best thing about word of mouth is that it tends to be reliable, no publishing hype, no media hysteria. This book has been read by book lovers, loved by book lovers and passed on by book lovers. And it is quite wonderful.
For a start it’s effortless to read. I’m not good at picking up the nuances of good/bad translated fiction, but this in no way feels like a translation. Much of this stems from its dry understated humour. It is narrated in a self-depricating tone that is quintessentially English, yet of course it isn’t. Still, no matter how good a translation is, it can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, and the story and characters in this novel are delightful.
Allan Karlsson is 100. Unable to face the mayoral visit to his care home that is to celebrate this landmark, Allan climbs out of the window. Soon he is boarding a bus with a suitcase that doesn’t belong to him. From there almost anything can happen, and it soon does. Alongside Allan’s luggage pilfering exploits, the reader is treated to Allan’s life story. A tale that takes in Mao, Stalin, Truman and Nixon, scandal, riots and atomic bombs. Both tales are shaggy dog’s stories. Both are thoroughly entertaining.
THYOMWCOOTWAD is a literary version of Forrest Gump. The story is stitched together between various historical set-pieces. Allan finds himself dragged into many key events of the twentieth century. The gem of the book is that despite being entirely apolitical, (merely wanting a bit of peace and plenty to drink), Allan inadvertently influences pretty much every poltical event of the last sixty years. Here Jonasson over plays his hand a little, stretching his idea beyond credulity and indeed, beyond my attention span. Each historical reimagining is pitch perfect, but there are too many of them.
If there is a message to this book, it’s that it’s never to late to change your life; there are always opportunities to climb out of the window. Other than that it’s just an entertaining yarn. This is quite refreshing. It was nice to read a well-written novel that’s so inventive, without worrying about subtext and deeper meaning. Effortless to read from start finish, this book would make an ideal gift; it’s hard to imagine somebody who wouldn’t fall for its many charms. Read it and you too will spread the word.