|Oct/Nov 2012 Reviews & Interviews|
The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared
Allen & Unwin. 2012. 384 pp.
ISBN 978 1 74331 127 1.
I should say from the start that I am not a laugh-out-loud reader of funny books. So, this book is not my usual sort of reading. However, Jonas Jonasson is a superb teller of tall tales, and enough people have found this book hilarious (so the publisher's blurb tells me) for it to have been translated into 35 languages. If that is so, then for those who appreciate bizarre stories, it will be a delight.
The plot is, like the title, ingenious. Allan Karlsson is about to celebrate his 100th birthday in an old folks home in Sweden, but he doesn't want a party. "The Mayor will be there. The press will be there. But, as it turns out, Allan will not..." As it turns out, too, Allan has never in his life done anything he didn't want to do. Not for long, anyway. So he climbs out of his bedroom window, heads for the local bus-station, buys himself a 50-crown ticket on the next bus out, and, taking a suitcase with him that has been left in his charge by a young man who urgently needed to use the rest-room, he rides off into the sunset (so to speak).
The suitcase, of course, turns out to be full of money. The owner turns out to be a member of a violent gang. Bad-tempered Director Alice at the Old Folks home has discovered that Allan is missing. And so the chase begins.
There are characters alive and (subsequently) dead, incompetent gangsters, thieves, ne'er-do-wells, baffled police, unexpected plot-twists... and an elephant.
Woven into the plot is Allan's eventful life story. As a skilled demolitions expert (although not always a very careful one) he has travelled the world and amongst the important people he has met and befriended are President Truman, Mao Tse-tung, Stalin, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Kim Il Sung, and Einstein and family (not necessarily in that order). He has also been actively involved in most of the history-making events of the 20th century, including the Spanish Civil War and the Manhattan project.
Eventually, of course, the police catch up with Allan, his friends, and the suitcase. But, master of tall stories that he is, Allan excels himself in sorting it all out. Even the elephant looks set to live happily ever-after.
Ingenious, cleverly done, and fast-paced, this is a tall tale told by an expert story-teller.