Jonas Jonassons’ sensation “The 100 year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared” is one one of the recent “it-books” to grace every list and on the lap of every subway rider. It has the distinction of being the most sold book in Sweden in 2010 and was made into a movie that did very well in Europe and I would not be surprised if a North American debut was in its future. Before I go into my review, I just want to note that a lot of people did like this book, so feel free to read it, we can still be friends if you do! But what did I think of this book?
I thought it was…meh.
It isn’t for lack of intriguing plot setup. “The 100 year old man” is the story of Allan Karlsson who, in the hours before his 100th birthday party, climbs out the window of his retirement home and sets off with no particular destination in mind. On a whim, he steals a suitcase at the bus depot, later to discover it contains a fortune in drug money. What follows is an adventure involving a number of questionable characters, and elephant and an (understandably) angry drug cartel.
Sounds pretty good so far, right?
This story is then interspersed with the tale of the first 100 years of Karlssons’ life, which is a wild tale, to say the least. Like Forrest Gump before him, Allan Karlsson was a key personage in the background of almost every major political happening. He had a 10 year old Kim Jong Il sit on his lap, he shared meals (and vodka…and national secrets) with the likes of Stalin, De Gaulle and Churchill. He was a close personal friend of Truman. The book is absurdly hilarious, well written technically and full of dry humor with impeccable timing.
Again, sounds like a great book. So whats my damage?
The only thing missing, and perhaps this was lost in its translation, is ANY way of connecting to ANY of the characters. By the end of it, I just didn’t care anymore, because none of the characters seemed to care. I mean, I love dry humor, I really do, but this was unreal. The most absurd things happened to this man, and everyone around him, but he remains a completely unlikable man with the personality of a sponge who ambled through fantastic events. I just couldn’t relate to any of the characters, there was no insight or character development. It was as if someone took the most exciting story and read it in a robot voice; neat at first, then boring, then annoying.
Over and over again, the same plot mechanisms are dragged out set against the background of the past 100 years: Allan meets famous historical figure and agrees to help their political cause because he is offered a hot meal and vodka, then it goes bad and Allan is in trouble but gets out of it because he blows something up.
Once is funny, twice is funny, but a whole book of the same with no humanizing element to the main character makes for a book I just couldn’t get into. It was like this book just wouldn’t let me love it, even though I wanted to so bad…