Review: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Let’s be honest, it’s a ridiculous title. I like ridiculous titles though, they breed curiosity at the very least (even if they do get shortened in discussion for ease and amusement – my favourite shortened title thus far is “Heartbreaking sh*tty sh*itness” – 5 points to the person who works out the full title first). So when Betty picked this for book club this month, I was at least drawn in by the title (and of course by the author’s fantastic name). And the ridiculousness of the title most definitely suits the equally ridiculous story.

It does pretty much what it says on the tin (er…cover) – a centenarian climbs out of the window of his old-people’s home and vanishes. Except he doesn’t vanish, because we follow his adventure, as well as learning about all the fantastic escapades he had through his life. Fantastic they most definitely are, spanning almost the entire twentieth century and including lunch with pretty much every world leader going. The story itself gets quite absurd and I know that grates on some people – in fact, I’m surprised it didn’t grate on me (when I read the blurb, I was certainly expecting it to) but in fact, the more ridiculous the story gets, and the more that the reader is asked to suspend belief, the more wonderful the novel becomes.

Its comedy starts out light but gradually becomes laugh-out-loud hilarity and my husband-to-be shot more than one glance at me for my random chuckles as he attempted to watch TV. In fact, when I related some of the tales and misadventures to him, they became even funnier and at one point, we were both creased over with happy tears in our eyes and I couldn’t get to the end of my sentence (he hadn’t read it of course, but laughter is contagious and some of the events are down-right riotous).

Allan (the centenarian) is a magnificent character with a wonderful attitude to life, and I wonder whether a carefree and positive view on life is the way to get to that grand old age. That or the substantial amounts of vodka the characters here seem to drink. He wasn’t the only endearing character either – I loved them all, even down to the cartoon depictions of Stalin and Truman. Herbert Einstein is seat-wettingly funny, Benny is fantastically clever and the Never Again crew should win awards for cheesiest criminal gang in existence.

This is a feel-good novel down to the ground. It’s a pleasantly light and humorous farce, interspersed with a brief history of communism and the atomic bomb. It’s the first book in a long while that has given me a good deal of a trance like ‘book hangover’ and has made me want to delve into the hitherto unknown (to me) world of Swedish literature. I just hope they don’t all spend so long naming the cars that their protagonists use!

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