“The Hundred-Yead-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson is a self-proclaimed “international bestselling sensation” and is touted as a must-read book by many reading-based internet sites, leaving me to believe it would be an inspirational journey of self-discovery in the style of Harold Fry.
The book begins when Allan escapes from his old peoples’ home and accidentally steals a suitcase full of money, and this is the beginning of many madcap adventures. In that sense, once I read past the extremely short first chapter, I was disappointed. I wanted Allan Karlsson, the book’s centenarian protagonist, to be a kindly old soul who has led a blameless, uninteresting life and who decides to go out in a blaze of glory, but Allan Karlsson was not the man I’d expected! The book mixes Allan’s current day escapades with chapters about Allan’s earlier days so we discover that he was an accidental explosive expert who had actually lived an extremely eventful life – saving the life of General Franco, spending time with Albert Einstein’s brother, etc etc etc. There weren’t many social and political events he didn’t get caught up in! The story has been likened to Forrest Gump – as the content is serious but the delivery is not.
One quote I found on the Amazon review of this book is “The intricately crafted and joyfully absurd plot is so over the top that at one point I had pangs of anxiety that we might face a Life of Pi-style ending, where an alternate take on Allan's riproaring yarn might loom into view courtesy of an Alzheimer's diagnosis”. I mention this because I thought just the same, and was relieved when it was not the case. However, I may have found it more believable if this was the reason for the plot’s unbelievability.
The high point in the book for me was the bibles getting pulped and Bosse researching the reason why, only to find that the typesetter had added a line right at the very end – “And they all lived happily ever after”. The low elements were the farcical and unbelievable nature of the plot (a stolen elephant being transported in a bus, for example), and I have to confess that I skim-read much of the more technical and unbelievable content.
Although this is a very popular book, I didn’t get what I wanted from it. For me it wasn’t an excitingly-styled must-read, and nor did I find any of the characters (even the protagonist) to be particularly charming, or endearing. Nevertheless, I can understand what other readers may have found in this book – that it’s never too late to live and enjoy your life – and that we should not make assumptions about people based on their age and seeming frailty (which is precisely what I did!).
One final comment - I do agree with many commentators who judge this book to be a “Marmite read” that is either loved or hated.