The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is one of those books that has ‘whimsy’ written all over it and normally something I’d run a mile from. But I read it because my family enjoyed it so much and because I wanted to see how a writer could handle a story that was so improbable.
Allan Karlson decides to climb out of the window of his nursing home in Sweden because he can’t bear the thought of the 100th birthday party that’s been planned for him. He gets on a bus where the driver puts what he thinks is Allan’s black suitcase on with him. So begins a far-fetched, rollicking story of his adventures over the next month. Fired by a personality that ‘says yes to life’ he meets an assorted bunch of misfits, including a pet elephant, who manage to outwit the police, a murderous bunch of drug dealers and a supercilious prosecutor. Interwoven through the tale is Allan’s life story, which spans the entire twentieth century and some of its biggest characters and events. Allan meets Franco in Spain, gets involved in the Manhattan project and pays a visit to Kim Jong-Il North Korea.
Everything that happens to Allan Karlson is written in such a way as to be almost believable so that you never get annoyed with the tall tales Jonasson is telling and its wickedly funny. The humour comes from the deadpan delivery of how the characters react to their increasingly ridiculous predicaments. The murderous drug dealers are called The Violence but the girlfriend enlisted to embroider the name on the back of the gang’s stolen jackets isn’t much of a speller and sews The Violins on the jacket instead. The section on Einstein I thought was absolutely hilarious. Allan’s homespun philosophy on life reads like Doris Day – ‘Things are what they are, and whatever will be will be. That meant among other things, that you didn’t make a fuss, especially when there was good reason to do so…’
Most of the action and dialogue is told as narrative so it really feels as if you are listening to your grandfather tell you a story. As Jonasson notes in his dedication, “‘Those who only says what is the truth, they’re not worth listening to,’ Grandpa replied.” The plot is also very loose and I thought there was no clear climax, as if the story had run out of steam and all that was left to do was tidy up the group’s future.
But this really is a very funny book with a great pace and a gentle tilt at the absurdity of some of the leaders who have shaped the 20th century.