Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

This word of mouth Swedish hit was voted to be our chosen book in the book club for January and it definitely split the club in two, with half loving it and half having to give up on it! I was very much in the 'loved it' camp.
I can understand the dissonance within the book club as the story veers wildly between the ridiculous to the down-right unbelievable. Allan Karlsson is the centenarian of the title and we're lead through his life from a boy up to (and past) his hundredth birthday, but the story itself starts just an hour before his hundredth birthday party in his lodgings at an Old-Peoples home. Sick of being holed up, he simply opens his ground floor window and starts to walk off without a soul noticing. The first few pages reminded me of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce but it soon turned a dark comedic corner. SPOILER AHEAD! Although Allan has made it to the age of one hundred he is still very mobile and cognitively sound so he leads us through a small town to a train station where he inadvertently steals a suitcase from a gang member. I think the next 20 or so pages is where you'll either really enjoy the ludicrous ride we're taken on, or it'll frustrate you with how silly it is. Half of the book club read between 50 and 100 pages then quit. One book clubber stated in our chat "just that it was too farcical, too much repetition, characters that didn't appeal to me."
You are left with a question as to why he'd simply up and leave but this is answered by the alternating chapters of history and storyline. Although we start the book on his hundredth birthday, a few chapters later we are thrown back to when he was a small boy and introduced to his mother and father, who have a love/hate relationship. The following chapter returns to 'the current day' and Allen's unplanned journey. In turn, the chapters slowly reveal Allen growing up, and also his current day adventure. Although this may sound a bit twee the book is spotted with dark moments. But let's get on to the crux of why this book has become so popular and unpopular in equal measures. 
Author Jonas Jonasson
Allen's life story is unbelievable, yet mesmerizing. Well known International personalities and events throughout history are not only touched upon but well and truly ingrained into his life. He has dinner with no less than three American Presidents and becomes on first name terms with Moa, Kim Jong Il, General Franco, Stalin, plus chats away to Churchill and becomes best friend to Einstein's brother amongst others. You'd think that he was politically minded but actually he has no political bone in his body with his aim to simply to have a nice meal, a bed but most of all, some Vodka. He just goes wherever he decides and, through his expertise of explosives, is sought after by many people. His carefree attitude and willingness to try something with his motto of 'it'll all be fine' sees him through many close encounters. The book lives or dies on if you go along with this. There were two films that came to mind whilst reading it; Forrest Gump and Big Fish. The 'current day' story is no less preposterous involving several gang members, car crashes and even an elephant.
I was taken along with Allen and thoroughly enjoyed his exploits. I've given it a pretty big 8 out of 10 on the comfometer.

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Michael