Our choice of book for April was The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed OutThe Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.
How can you describe this novel? Farce, satire and black comedy all rolled up into one. Ageing is not the most uplifting of conditions but the main character of the book gives us hope. At the age of 100, fed up with life in a nursing home and anxious for a stiff drink, Allan Karlsson, donned his slippers, hoists his creaking knees over the window sill and escapes from the old age home and mayoral birthday party into the flowerbed and towards Malmkoping’s bus station where a very unusual journey across Sweden begins.
Arriving at the bus station before he even boards a bus he is asked to keep an eye on a young man’s suitcase. Deciding he does not like the young man he steals the suitcase which unbeknown to Allan contains a fortune of money that belongs to a criminal gang. His destination at this time is determined by the route of Bus 202 which he boards.
Along the way Allan gathers new friends like the proverbial rolling stone, including a master thief who lives in isolation, a hot dog vendor, a hot headed red haired woman, an elephant called Sonya and a dog called Buster. Naturally the criminal gang are chasing Allan and his unlikely allies as they move across Sweden as are the police as their worry for Allan’s safety grows.
The story of Allan’s extraordinary 100 year life develops alongside his escape from the nursing home as we hear of his past life as an explosives expert and his meetings with Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Winston Churchill, Robert Oppenheimer, Sigvard Eklund, Charles de Gaulle and Presidents Truman Johnson and Nixon.
Much of the interactions including starting and stopping wars, climbing mountains, crossing desserts, being thrown in jail and Gulags, razing an entire town, and languishing in the Siberian snows. All accompanied with Allan drinking copious quantities of vodka at every opportunity.
We agreed the novel was quirky, amusing, intelligent and charming, having an absurd plot with more twists and turns than a Bond movie which brings me to the one criticism a few of us had of the novel. It would make an excellent movie and we wonder if the plot was subject to a faint element of connivance regarding that. That said it is a novel with an undecidedly unglamorous hero which proves to be a great testimonial to the achievements and moments in a person’s life. I wish I had met Allan Karlsson in real life and shared a vodka with him. I have also had the lesson reinforced that within every old person there will be a story worthy of acknowledging.
The next book our Club will be reading is History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters by Julian Barnes. Review to follow here.