This book was recommended to me by a patron but I think I would have grabbed it off the shelf regardless. Everything about it says, happy, happy, happy: the title, the bright orange colour of the cover, and the whacky story itself. All the way through reading it I thought “this would make the perfect movie”. Apparently I’m not alone in this, as several movie companies are currently competing for the film rights.
This is Swedish author, Jonas Jonasson’s first novel. It has sold over 2 million copies and been translated into over 30 languages. The blurb on the back sums things up perfectly: “A reluctant centenarian with a life much like Forrest Gump’s (if Gump were an explosives expert with a fondness for vodka) decides it’s never too late to start over…” It’s difficult to decide whether Allan Karlsson (the main character) is completely stupid or completely smart. I’m tending towards the latter, because, really, nobody could be that much of an idiot, all the time and achieve so much.
Single-handedly, Karlsson has shaped the history of the world throughout the 20th century. Equipped with his unique knowledge of the atom bomb, he is, naturally, everybody’s best friend wherever he goes. He somehow manages to be in the right place at the right time, all the time. Even though some pretty horrible things have happened to him along the way, including compulsory sterilisation, he keeps on trundling through life, ever passive and always willing to lend a hand. He hates politics and any political discussion, but becomes close friends with President Truman and has dinner with Joseph Stalin. Dinner with Stalin admittedly doesn’t turn out so well, especially when he finds himself sentenced to Vladivostok for 30 years. After five years of hard labour and no complaining, however, Karlsson decides he’s had enough of that and desperately needs a drink. He and Albert Einstein’s unknown half-brother, Herbert Einstein – the biggest dim-wit on the planet, also imprisoned at Vladivostok, plan their escape, dodging trouble along the way in ways that only Karlsson could.
Jonasson weaves two stories together throughout the book. The first starts with Karlsson’s decision to climb out the window of the old folks home before the celebrations begin for his 100th birthday – something to do with a serious lack of vodka and an officious Director named Alice. He heads for the bus depot (in his slippers) and from there on, all hell breaks loose. On a whim he steals a large grey suitcase, which, would you know it, just happens to belongs to a member of the Never Again gang. A long chase naturally ensues and Karlsson collects some new friends along the way, including, of course, an elephant.
The second story chronicles Karlsson’s life from birth to his 100th birthday. It’s an entirely fantastical, farcical history, so utterly ridiculous, but so wonderfully entertaining. Jonasson’s imagination knows no bounds. I look forward to his up-coming second novel.