It was the title that prompted me to scoop this offering off the shelf – and the fact that the book cover looks entertaining. Would I enjoy it?
Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, Allan Karlsson is waiting for a party he doesn’t want to begin. His one-hundredth birthday party to be precise. The Mayor will be there. The press will be there. But, as it turns out, Allan will not. Escaping (in his slippers) through his bedroom window. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals; several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, Allan’s earlier life is revealed. A life in which – remarkably – he played a key role behind the scenes in some of the momentous events of the twentieth century.
Humour is such a very individual thing, isn’t it? The blurb on the book jacket used words like hilarious and incredibly funny and while I wasn’t necessarily expecting to be rolling around the bed in paroxysms of laughter, I was assuming I’d crack the odd smile. I didn’t. The book simply didn’t tweak my sense of humour.
However, that didn’t mean I disliked the book – it is a quirky, entertaining read. Allan is a likeable scamp, whose laid-back approach to life and constant thirst for vodka creates all sorts of mad-cap adventures. As his attempt to escape from his birthday party pitchforks him into a surreal series of mishaps when he encounters a young man with an attitude, and a large, heavy suitcase. Interleaving this farcical narrative, are flashbacks into Allan’s earlier life, charting his regular brushes with history.
It’s an entertaining take on the grimmer aspects of 20th century history. Allan finds himself right at the forefront of the race to make the first atom bomb, which draws down a lot of interest on him that isn’t particularly benign. Not that Allan is aware of it – his absolute disinterest in all things political means that the consequences of what is happening around him often bypasses him. He isn’t exactly stupid – he is just magnificently unaware… Yes – you are definitely required to suspend your belief. I could manage that for the sheer unpredictability of what would happen next – and the fact that the whole story moves along at a fair clip.
What I did find a bit more difficult, was the fact the narrative was largely in ‘tell’ mode. As a reader of a lot of genre fiction, I found this particular viewpoint increasingly grated on me – whether the original book is told in this manner is impossible for me to judge of course. It could simply be a by-product of a rather unsympathetic translation. And perhaps it could also explain why I didn’t find the book as rib-crackingly funny as the blurb claims. If the translation is in tell mode, it would sacrifice a lot of the immediacy and punchiness that I feel this book could have so nearly achieved, and didn’t.
Even so, it is an engaging book and if you are in search of something a little different, then give it a try – but don’t bank on howling with laughter throughout…