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Why did I pick this up? I had never heard of the author, Swedish ex-journalist Jonas Jonasson, and don't typically read books set in old people's homes. I'll admit it: the marketing worked. The long, vaguely humorous title drew me in to the extent that I sometimes wonder whether I properly read the blurb, which on reflection doesn't really appeal to me!
== The premise =
It's Allan Karlsson's 100th birthday and he is about to attend a party in his honour at his residential care home. Except that he isn't. Reluctant to attend the party, he steps out the window and is soon on a bus with a suitcase full of cash, a petty criminal on his tail and some incompetent police officers fumbling in the background.
As his increasingly unlikely journey continues, Allan collects associates, commits a few manslaughters and continues to outwit the police. Meanwhile, Jonasson reveals Allan's earlier life, a life in which he has played a surprisingly important role in world history.
== What's it like? ==
A bit mad. Nothing daunted by his frail body - after all, he reminds himself, he once crossed the Himalayas, and that was no picnic - Allan gathers together a ragtag group of slightly unusual people, eventually including Sonia the elephant. Despite the realistic descriptions of events, this is a rather fantastical tale from the start and may not suit readers who prefer straightforward realism or fantasy instead of the muddle of the two which inspires this picaresque novel.
On the other hand, if you like people who off-handedly say things like "when I worked for Stalin" or "when I infiltrated the embassy", you'll love Allan, who has seen quite a lot of the world in his 100 years. He's also helped to blow up a fair bit of it.
Despite Allan's complete lack of interest in politics, readers might be advised to refresh their historical knowledge; Allan meets many of the leaders of the twentieth century, often in some rather odd situations. I was mildly amused by this habit of his, but feel I would have been much more entertained if I had greater knowledge of or interest in the cold war in particular. History buffs should love this, if they don't mind the liberties taken.
Most of the minor characters are intensely politically minded, so there is much focus on dictators, despots and the ideals of democracy throughout; uninterested readers can skim these spiels much as Allan does, but there is an awful lot of politics to consume if you aren't politically minded. Interestingly, the major characters tend to share Allan's apathy, unless of course they can make some money out of a situation. If Jonasson has something he wants to say about politics, domestic and international, it seems he has a rather bleak view; the idealists die, the fanatics prosper...until they all die too.
Black humour is present throughout, not least in Allan's habit of taking everyone at their word and being ready to blow things up for them. (If Stalin says that he's a nice bloke, who is Allan to doubt him?) Jonasson's humour seems very mild but I am not sure that Rod Bradbury has translated it particularly well and have heard (via a friend of a friend) that the book is much funnier in the original Swedish.
Comedies are tricky things. Jokes or conceits that I find simply dull, you may find hilarious - or offensive. (I remember loathing 'A short history of tractors in Ukrainan' despite it being universally feted as a 'jolly romp' and I found that 'Then we came to the End' - supposedly a satire of modern office-life - left me cold.) Humour in translation is even trickier; the cultural barriers can be more damaging than the language difficulties. Something that fits beautifully into one country's comedic tradition may fail to make a similar impression abroad.
However, the reality may be simpler than that. Much of the comedy here is a bit slapstick and perhaps more suited to a TV cartoon than a book. I can easily envisage this as a cartoon with 2D characters chasing each other across the screen. The joy of this approach would be that the story could be consumed in bite-sized chunks and therefore would remain lightly amusing. Personally, I find the difficulty with this kind of sustained light humour is that after a while it actually makes for quite dull reading. You almost need a break in order to more readily appreciate the daft, dark humour.
The story itself is also quite simple and some members of my book group felt that, as seems to be the case with many contemporary fiction books, the book would have benefitted from more stringent editing and fewer pages to tell what was perhaps a short story in disguise. I don't agree, but did find that the story dragged a bit towards the end, so maybe they were right!
Chapters alternate between modern day events and Allan's past. I felt this worked well as, unlike some books which use this technique, I didn't ever find myself skipping ahead or wishing I could finish one strand so I could return to the other. Both stories were equally interesting and unusual enough to hold the reader's attention.
One aspect I did enjoy was the focus on story-telling towards the end. Allan is, of course, a consummate story-teller, used to adapting his narrative to suit his audience, whether that's a president ir a gaoler, and it was entertaining to see him putting together a story to suit the final situation he finds himself in. The ending itself is just as surreal as the rest of the book and requires a hefty suspension of disbelief. If, like me, you sometimes read to the end of a book you aren't really enjoying 'in case it gets better', I probably wouldn't bother here. If you have stopped enjoying it by half-way through, you'll find it only gets worse. If, on the other hand, you find you enjoy the odd events throughout the book, you'll most likely love the ending, which includes an epilogue. It's really quite appropriate for the book and gives a good amount of closure.
== Final thoughts ==
I quite enjoyed reading this book as long as I read it in small chunks, but I wasn't sufficiently interested in Russian-American politics to find it deeply engaging. When I started reading large chunks at a time to get it off my currently-reading pile, I became quite uninterested; it is probably best to savour it like tiny calorie-rich chocolates.
I prefer realistic books and occasionally became a bit frustrated with the random coincidences and odd characters, but if I had approached this with different expectations I don't think that it would have bothered me. I read it alongside more straightforward fiction and non-fiction, which I don't think helped me to adjust to Jonsson's style.
The £8.99 RRP is typical for a contemporary novel of this length and doesn't seem unreasonable given the potential for enjoyment. I received this as a gift but would have paid full price. That said, I'm not sure that I would read it again as it is just too whimsical for my tastes, so perhaps paying full-price wouldn't have been the wisest investment! Given its popularity it will be available for less, whether as part of a marketing deal or on the second-hand market.
'The hundred-year-old man who...' has been such an 'international best selling sensation' (according to the front cover) that the cover design and title has been imitated not only by Jonsson himself, who will publish his second book, 'The girl who saved the king of Sweden', in April, but also by his fellow Swedish novelist Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg, whose book 'The Little Old Lady who broke all the rules' was published in the UK in January. Interestingly, Ingelman-Sundberg's crime caper is also translated by Rod Bradbury, so presumably his work on Jonsson's book was received positively.
As for me, I'll be steering clear of both those capers and settling down with the latest book group choice for some (hopefully) more realistic drama.
Read this if:
- you enjoy farce, slapstick and black humour;
- you enjoy books which make (liberal) use of historical facts, events and people;
- you enjoy adventure stories featuring grown-ups and comically incompetent police officers.
Avoid this if:
- you prefer to read thoroughly realistic novels with believable characters and convincing scenarios;
- you find politics very dull or completely uninteresting;
- you don't enjoy narratives that move regularly between the past and the present or write off large chunks of time (e.g. 21 years) at once.
Like Harry Potter did for me when I was younger, this book has the magical touch of reigniting an enthusiasm for reading. It is difficult to place exactly what makes the book so captivating, but it's impossible to put it down from start to finish and I have already bought another book by the same author. The book follows the life and times of the hundred year old man - Allan as his decides that his 100th year birthday party really isn't for him and instead embarks on a hilarious adventure, whilst each alternate chapter allows us to follow his life through adventures through the himalayas, North Korea and from Stalin to Chairman Mao to the beaches of Indonesia! The book is fast paced and hilarious and suitable for all ages and for the price, really is worth getting on kindle or paperback. It's a book that would make a great transition to the big screen as well and I'm looking forward to the new book by the author 'The Man Who Killed the King of Sweden'.
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is about a 100 year old man (Allan Karlsson) who climbs out a window and disappears. This unusual course of action is due to two major factors; his upcoming and unwanted 100th birthday party and the unfair drinking restrictions imposed upon the residents of his particular old folk's home.
This particular centenarian, however, is no ordinary vodka-drinking 100 year old birthday boy. He has (mainly unwittingly) witnessed and contributed to some of the major events of the 20th century during the course of his memorable 100 years on planet earth.
The adventure he embarks on after climbing out the window involves gangsters, suitcases of cash, several grisly deaths, an elephant and copious amounts of vodka. For most folk it would have been the adventure of a lifetime. Unlike Allan, however, most people haven't spent a considerable amount of time wandering around the globe in the company of such characters as Churchill, Stalin, Mao and a collection of US Presidents.
This book, a debut novel by Swede Jonas Jonasson, tells the parallel tales of the Allan's new adventure after his unexpected escape from the old folk's home, plus his incredible life story and how it led him to be the 100 year old man who climbed out the window.
Along the way we meet some brilliantly drawn out characters who are as memorable as they are varied; from a hot dog-salesman to Einstein's idiotic brother to a "little loudmouth" Russian dictator to an elephant who's own life story draws strange parallels with Allan's.
This is a whimsical and quirky tale that is occasionally laugh-and-loud funny, and constantly amusing, interesting and uplifting. Allan is a loveable, charismatic character who, like a geriatric Forrest Gump, is not aware of the impact he is having on the world around him including the Spanish Civil War and Reagan's Star Wars. This is not from stupidity; more a refreshingly innocent and carefree vision of the world that the reader can't help but admire.
- - - "There are only two things I can do better than most people. One of them is to make vodka from goats' milk, and the other is to put together an atomic bomb" - - -
Real praise should go to the translator of this Swedish novel, Rod Bradbury, which seems to have captured the feel and crucially the humour of the original (published in 2009) perfectly. The simply written page-turner of a novel flows beautifully and swapping between Allan's past life and his current adventure do little to diminish the pace of the novel.
As far apart from the traditional Nordic Noir as it's possible to get, the book is unapologetically optimistic and carefree; periods of excitement and a kind of tension, interspersed with slapstick humour and hilariously unrealistic plot twists.
Sometimes it pays to judge a book by it's cover and this is very much the case here; the zany and intriguing title prompting many (myself included) to pay the £3.99 price (kindle) £6.29 (paperback) to find out a bit more and propel the novel into the limelight as one of the best sellers of last year.
I loved the book and finished it in a couple of days; some will obviously find it too light weight and may not find the humour to their taste. Others may find it difficult to like a character who actually does some pretty terrible things (albeit with a certain style) and judges the perpetrators of some of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century by how much vodka they are willing to give him. A gentle mocking is perhaps less than these monsters deserve; but whilst the book humanises them, it also ridicules them. One great scene involves the young Kim Il Sung being consoled on Allan's knee and another Stalin exploding quite spectacularly over Allan's choice of words.
- - - "'I shall destroy capitalism! Do you hear! I shall destroy every single capitalist! And I shall start with you, you dog, if you don't help us with the bomb!'
Allan noted that he had managed to be both a rat and a dog in the course of a minute or so. And that Stalin was being rather inconsistent, because now he wanted to use Allan's services after all.
But Allan wasn't going to sit there and listen to this abuse any longer. He had come to Moscow to help them out, not to be shouted at. Stalin would have to manage on his own.
'I've been thinking,' said Allan.
'What,' said Stalin angrily.
'Why don't you shave off that moustache?'
With that the dinner was over, because the interpreter fainted." - - -
Part farce, part fable, The 100 year old man pokes a satirical finger at politics, relations both human and international, and age whilst lampooning conventional thrillers. The book itself bears a resemblance to the titular character; charismatic, charming and surprising fast-paced and nimble.
For those looking for an absorbing, feel good read that'll fill a few hours and leave you with a smile (and possibly a more laid back attitude to getting older), I couldn't recommend it enough.
The Hundred year Old Man who Climbed out of a window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
I read a review of this book on either ciao or Dooyoo and instantly made a note that I would like to read this. My step daughter came round and she is a member of a book club and we often swap books and again she reminded me that I had this on my mental 'to be read' list. Finally my friend passed me on a pile of books she had finished reading and this was one in the pile. It was started the next day as I just finished another book and it jumped the queue of others I have on a shelf in my room just because of its ridiculously intriguing title.
Scandinavia seems to be producing a wave of talented writers at this time and previous to this I can't remember reading any Scandinavian authors apart from Hans Christian Anderson of course.
I can't write this review without a mention of the translator Rod Bradbury who I feel has done a fabulous job of capturing the feel of the book which can't have been an easy thing to do as this book is like no other that I have ever read.
Basically Allan, the 100 year old man has lived through the entire 20th century and has ended up in a nursing home only a few months prior to his 100th birthday. He hates being so restricted as he enjoys a vodka or two and is not allowed to imbibe in the home. He decides rather spontaneously on the day of his birthday, while the residents, and the mayor are gathering to celebrate with him, to escape. He didn't plan this so had little money on him, he was wearing his 'pee slippers', so called as old men struggle to reach the look hence dribbling on their slippers and had not really any idea as to where he would go.
He makes his way to the bus station and is sitting waiting for the first bus to anywhere when a rather scruffy young man asks him to look after his suitcase while he goes to the loo. Allan's bus arrives and for some reason he is unsure of even himself, he gets on the bus with the suitcase. This is the start of the most ridiculous and random story ever.
The suitcase contains an awful lot of money and of course the young man wants it back. In between Allan's adventures with the suitcase in the present we are told bits about his past. His adventures remind me of Forrest Gump a bit as Allan somehow without really trying manages to help create the Atom bomb, meet various presidents of the USA, Stalin, Chairman Mao and others.
I love the understated way the story is told and how amazingly laid back Allan is in every situation; however dire it appears at the time he remains unruffled and somehow gets out of the scrape. The kind of person who falls in sh..t and comes up smelling of roses.
Allan is a very likeable affable character. He gets along with everybody and is happy to help anybody, especially if they are offering a vodka or two to sweeten the deal.
To give you an idea of the style of writing and humour I will quote a short conversation Allan was having a coffee with President Nixon and telling him how politics worked in Indonseia and how bribes could buy you a place in power. "President Nixon listened carefully and seemed to be giving the subject his serious attention 'Interesting,' he said, 'Interesting.'" A bit further on after describing how popular Nixon was and how he was re elected Allan read in the paper about the "so called Watergate scandal" and Allan's comment to Nixon's photo in the paper was "You should have gone for a career in Indonesia instead."
Not only is Allan a hilarious character who you can't help but like but he gets mixed up with a fairly random set of misfits while escaping with his suitcase of money. They dig themselves deeper in trouble at every turn and in another book what they get up to, would be far from comic but in this story, it is just silly. This is black humour at its best, a bit like Forrest Gump again. How the author thought of the twists and turns and even bringing an elephant into the story that they have to make one of their escapes with in a bus!
This really is the silliest story but somehow it works and it draws you in. the characters are all people with problems fitting into normal society, petty or not so petty criminals but somehow you don't hate them or despise what they are doing. It is almost like a cartoon or comic with 'Biff' 'Bang' etc written , people getting flattened by ridiculous things or maybe a bit Laurel and Hardy.
Anyway this is a book which you cannot take seriously. It doesn't take itself seriously and is a completely bonkers story with totally OTT characters doing the most ridiculous things. I love how Einstein's brother is a bit dim witted but ends up quite successful, marries someone and they have two boys who are 'strangely' quite bright and called Mao Einstein and the other named after the hero of the book Allan.
I would certainly recommend this book. You cannot possibly take it seriously and it brought a smile to my face many times as I was reading it. It is beautifully written in such an understated way, written as though serious but the reader read between the lines so to speak.
I do hope Jonas Jonasson writes some more and that Rod Bradbury is chosen to translate as I felt he captured the feel of the book brilliantly. I thoroughly enjoyable read.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username.
I recently receive this book, 'The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared' by Jonas Jonasson for a gift. Witha RRP of £8.99 it is quite well priced especially considering that it is quite a large, chunky book. The thing that intrigued me the most about this book upon first clapping eyes on it was the long and peculiar book title, and I didn't really know what to make of it. The book itself is eye catching and interesting, with a window design and blueand black being its main colours.
This book was translated from Swedish into English and this was a fact I did not find out until I had finished the book. It is well translated, and the frank manner of writing I took to just be the author's distinct style of writing.
Anyway, a bit about the story line. This book follows Allan Karlsson, a, can you believe it, 100 year old man who has just escaped from his own 100th birthday party. He goes on to having rather unusual adventures, and we meet other new characters on the way, and rather innocently gets involved in crime. However, the main aspect of this book I would say would perhaps be the unveling of Allan's past life and the really spectacular adventures he went on during his 100 years alive. The story alternates between past and present day, and eventually, near the end of the book, the past starts catching up with the present.
The main character, Allan Karlsson, is an interesting character. I like how the author seems like he is not making a character to appease the readers but instead creates a seemingly simple character who in fact has many complexities. This in turn makes him a likeable and interesting character, though I am not sure that I would like to meet him!
The story is very funny with plenty of mostly subtle laughs packed in. His unbelievable adventures and supposed impact on world history entertains you, with [most probably] made up historical events including the claim that Albert Einstein had a dumb brother named Herbert. Also, the carelessness and frankness of which details of somewhat shocking events such as blowing people up are thrown in, despite being a little alarming, adds its very own bit of dark comedy to the mixture. I do get a feeling that at some parts there is rather more of a dark sense underneath the words, but the comedic way in which this book is written gives this a nice light hearted feel.
I do believe that I have learnt about foreign history a bit just by reading this book, be it as it may that most of the events in this book are completely and utterly fictional. However, all fiction has a basis, and I believe quite a bit of research has gone into the writing process of this book. It certainly is a very interesting book.
Altogether, I found this to be a fantastic, funny, intriguing and inspirational read. If someone can do all that in one life time, then what's stopping you from really making an impact in history and doing your little bit as well? It was a really absorbing story and I just couldn't put it down. It is an unusual and welcome change to most of the other books I read, and I am glad that I read it as I haven't as of yet found any other book quite like it. Packing excitement and action and humour into every single one of its pages, this book deserves to be read. And so I would recommend it to you with 4 out of 5 stars.
I read this book as part of a book club. I do tend to judge a book by its title/ cover and wasn't particularly looking forward to reading it. It turned out to be a really interesting read, with lots of different story lines interweaved with each other.
The story starts as the title suggests- One hour before his 100th birthday, Alan climbs out of the window in his care home and so begins an interesting journey, at times dangerous and completely ridiculous. The storyline isn't that believable, but it is so well written and funny that I found myself totally immersed in the book and had trouble putting it down, often reading many hours past my bedtime.
I really enjoyed the humour and style of writing. Jokes are made in a very serious way, and I loved learning about Alan's exciting life. The book jumps between present day and Alan's past, making light-hearted references to some topical historical events. The book never addresses the rights and/ or wrongs of these historical events and thus ensures the reader isn't bogged down with too many serious issues. The plot of the present day details Alan's journey while on the run from the care home, how he came to be on the run from the police and a dangerous gang. Like I've said, the storyline isn't always believable so you can never predict what might happen, or which way the story will go, which is what spurred me to keeping reading.
I really enjoyed this book although after reading it I will never look at old men's slippers in the same way ever again!
The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is a translated work of fiction originally published in Swedish. I got my copy on Kindle and read it over the Christmas (2012) break.
I will keep this review short. It is a story about a man who lives in an Old People's Home and who, on the day of his Centenary birthday, where the Home is preparing a party for him; he (yes, the title) climbs out of the window of his room and disappears.
The book starts at this point and follows the outlandish escapades of Allan (that is the centenarian's name) as he inadvertently gets on the wrong side of the law and gangsters at the same time. So, it is a fast-paced adventure with newly acquired friends (again, fortuitously) as he tries to stay ahead of both. This tale of the present time is interspersed with adventures from various stages of his earlier life spanning the 100 years. These adventures are taking place in all corners of the globe. In some cases the escapades are so outrageous that a slight suspension of disbelief is necessary.
There is also a slight weakness in that with all the interwoven stories spanning decades and a whole variety of scenarios, almost invariably; it is the baddies that meet a sticky end. We all know life does work quite like that.
The fact that it is a translated book is not only apparent in the primary location of the story but also in the language which is, at times, stilted. However, overall the translator did a very good job as the language and story flows nicely along for the most part. Overall an enjoyable read but possibly just a tad too long.
I had heard of this book. Many people told me it was a favourite read of 2012 and so I borrowed it from a friend to see what the fuss was about.
This is not the usual genre of book that I would read, I usually stick with chick lit type books but I am glad I read this as it was very enjoyable and well written. I do recommend it.
The story tells of Alan who is about to celebrate his 100th birthday. He is in a care home and he really does not want to have a party and so he decides that he won't attend it and instead he escapes by climbing out of his window.
An adventure begins when he does so! He ends up taking a suitcase onto a bus of a complete stranger. This leads to a variety of action which left me turning the page wanting to read more and see what was coming.
This book is fast-paced, it's full of action and lots of different characters. It jumps from past to present but I was able to keep up and was aware of where we were but it may be confusing to some readers. It was actually really interesting to hear about different times in history without it being a lecture and with it feeling accurate too.
I found this book very different to anything I've read before. It made me think about my own father and what his childhood was like.
It was very interesting but also amusing too. I smiled whilst reading this book a lot as it was so amusing. It definitely was a feel good book and very imaginative.
It was written in Swedish but the translation into English is really good, you can't tell at all. Highly recommended.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
by Jonas Jonasson
translated by Rod Bradbury
I have to admit to a massive lack of time for reading for pleasure recently, as a student I have so many text books taking up shelf space it was a real luxury to pick up a book just for the fun of it. Not wanting to miss anything of the pleasure I began this journey in Waterstones. I have to say I can only praise the staff who recommend three books to me, two of which were in the buy one get one half price. This book is priced at £8.99 (and was included in the offer). Do shop around as I am sure it will be in other stores or on-line for less.
~~~ SPOILER ALERT ~~~
(I'm guessing that no matter how hard I try I'm going to let something slip so be warned)
As the title of the book may suggest this is about a 100 year old man - meet Alan Karlsson.
He basically feels the need to escape the dubious pleasure (in his mind) of his 100th birthday party, and to do this yep you guessed it he climbs out of his window. Which at 100 can take just a bit of time to accomplish. He seems to have had enough of the oppressive regime that the care home he lives in wants to impose (he's missing his vodka).
The book then follows him on his adventure as he makes a whole lot of new friends, and reacquaints himself with an old one.
The book is written with alternate chapters of the present time (2005), and moments of interest from Alan Karlsson's life. He's lived to be a hundred, and there have been a few. From a historical perspective it's a fascinating read it brings to life some moments in history with a truly comic twist.
I have to admit to being a bit sceptical when I saw the title of the book, but the sincere recommendation from the guy in the shop twisted my arm. After only a few short pages I could barely put it down. It's really well written and for me it looses nothing for having been translated (the comic moments still work).
The main character is lovable and just so very matter of fact he has had a very interesting life, and the book will make you laugh out loud at points. His capers do at points seem to be very far fetched (but also very understated), the concept of the same man being involved with so many of the key decisions in so many wars across Europe is crazy and yet for me they sparked an interest in the history behind the writing. Although for the writer the key elements of history were a useful tool, for Alan Karlsson they are almost scenery as he concentrates on the important things in life like getting sloshed with world leaders.
I feel the book is well researched (but I'm no historian), and this comes across in the important elements such as the politics that Alan almost refuses to listen to without a good 'greasing' of vodka.
Each time you are introduced to a new character Alan makes them fall in love with him, just as he will do to you the reader. This uncanny ability will get him out of many scrapes, and when his personality doesn't work the suitcase of cash he managed to accidentally steal in the hope of finding some shoes seems to grease the wheels of friendship.
A truly awesome book, I defy you not to laugh at points.