This novel, whose title I’ll shorten to The 1oo-Year-Old Man, is perhaps hardly worth reviewing here as it’s become enormously popular since it was released in 2009. I suspect most of my readers have either at least heard of it or read it themselves. The story is absurd. In the opening pages, 100-year-old Allan Karlsson climbs out of his window at his seniors’ residence, having decided he wants to live a bit longer but not in the confines of the boring and dictatorial home. What ensues is a wild adventure, interspersed with a chronological narrative detailing Allan’s even wilder adventures from his youth. Imagine the film Forrest Gump if Forrest was extremely intelligent and by happenstance got to meet most of the world’s most famous or notorious leaders between the years 1930-2000.It’s entertaining if you forgo rationality. Like I said, it’s absurd.
Despite the novel’s popularity, I suspect this is not a book for everyone. The prose is very matter-of-fact, almost as if you’re reading a journalist’s account of the story, and as a result the characters feel very two dimensional. An example (pulled at random): “In the distance stood a hot-dog stand. Julius promised Allan that if he made it to the hot-dog stand, then Julius would treat him – he could afford it – and then he would find a solution to the transport problem. Allan replied that never in his life had he complained over a bit of discomfort, and that he wasn’t going to start now, but that a hot-dog would hit the spot.” Much of the book is written in this fashion, with actual dialogue being replaced with an arm’s length account of the conversation instead. Admittedly it takes some getting used to, but I found this style of writing refreshingly different. While the characters do feel lifted from the pages of a comic in their fantasticality, I still found the story engrossing. I have heard complaints that the book is too political (Allan meets famous leaders from Stalin to Mao Tse-tung) but I certainly was not bothered by the (pretty tame) political themes of the book. Although I wouldn’t go out of my way to read anything else by Jonasson, the 100-Year-Old Man is definitely a memorable read!