Jonas Jonasson – The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Being a trusting consumer, when Amazon for the fifth time recommended a book with the entertaining title The 100 year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared, I pressed Buy, and started reading.
I had not heard about the book, didn’t know the name of the author, hadn’t even seen the cover. This was a whole new level of judging a book by it’s cover – judging the book by it’s title (and Amazon rating). I was right away taken with not only the premise, but the names.
The story is set in the “not what you’d call bustling” Swedish town of Malmköping, and circles around the centenarian Allan Karlsson. Intrigued by the pervasive swedishness of these facts, I went to the home screen of my Kindle and checked the author’s name. His name was even more agressively Swedish: Jonas Jonasson. So it turns out the book was, in fact, translated from Swedish, in which the original title reads Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann.
I immedately felt a little sheepish, even more so when my grandmother a few weeks later asked me which language I was reading it in – Swedish or Norwegian. For once, I was reading something from, if not my own country, at least it’s neighbour and previous owner, and I didn’t even know! Moreover, I was reading it in translation! After my initial emotional response, I decided it didn’t really matter as I hate reading Swedish anyway, and continued on in Allan Karlsson’s cheery and vodka soaked path.
As the story unfolded, I was struck by three things:
1) The incredibly and surprisingly epic scope of the storyline considering it concerned a pensioner escaping his retirement home in his pee-stained slippers
2) the similarity of writing style to one of my all time favourite authors, Dan Rhodes, and
3) the similarity of the epic sweeping historical event based plotline to one of my all time favourite films, Forrest Gump.
The story starts, as the title makes clear, with Centenarian Allan Karlsson deciding that he really cannot be bothered with the fuss of the 100th birthday party arranged for him at his retirement home, and so he climbs out the window. Making his way, logically, to the bus station, he encounters a thug with a suitcase. Allan, despite being one hundred years old, is a character of gumption and a low tolerance of rudeness. Thus, when the youthful thug is obnoxious, and thereafter asks Allan to watch his suitcase, Allan does as any 100 year old explosives expert would do; takes the suitcase, boards a bus, and, effectively, disappears.
To this small but already eccletic ensemble of characters is soon added Julius, a rural character of dubious morality. Thereafter joins Benny, a man with a curious background story that has led him to be a nearly-doctor, nearly-architect, nearly-botanist, nearly-vet, to mention a few. This trio seeks escape from an increasing band of less-than-intelligent thugs and police officers, as well as the unpleasantly authoritative Old Folk’s Home Director Alice, while the accidental murders pile up in their wake. Though outlined like this the plot may seem like something out of a mediocre 90s movie featuring Jeff Daniels, the novel is in fact hilarious. With a huge and quirky character set, dubious morals and the delightful opposition between the Swedish small-town centenarian and his previous life which, Forrest Gump style, includes roles in the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Chinese Communism, the development of the atom bomb (to mention a few).
Can we all just please agree how outrageously, delightfully Swedish Mr. Jonasson looks??
Ringing with Dan Rhodes-oddities, moral ambiguity and slight uncanniness, “The 100 year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared” is a gem of a popular novel, and a delight. I will however take a moment to lament the fact that Dan Rhodes is not as widely read and recommended, because he should be. So please, please; read this, and read This is Life, read Gold, read Timoleon Vieta Come Home – and be excited for Marry Me, which is out January 31st!