The first comment made at today’s gathering was “I think this is the best book we have read since Book Club began.” We have read about twenty books so far, so this is a pretty good recommendation.
I would leave it at that, but of course there is more to say. The book in question was The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Jonas Jonasson), translated from the original Swedish. The hundred year old man in question is Allan Karlsson, who takes the reader on two journeys – one across Sweden, gathering friends along the way in the most random manner, and another through the major historical events of the twentieth century. We all found it so delightfully off the wall and unpredictable we couldn’t really pick a favourite moment, but even though the many twists of fate that befell Allan really kept us guessing, we still found the ending to be quite predictable (albeit in a wonderful way).
There weren’t any negative comments made about this book. All of the characters Allan met on his many adventures after climbing out of the window were likeable in their own quirky ways. Even the Chief Inspector who was looking to arrest the whole lot of them ended up being just as liked as Allan and his band of “outlaws.”
The parallel story that traced Allan’s past, from childhood to the moment he climbed out of the window, follows him from Sweden to America to China and a whole host of other places, seemingly accidentally influencing most of the major events in the twentieth century. Knowing a little bit about this history helped in the enjoyment of the story, I think, but we agreed that we all learned something new as well. As the story of Allan’s past and present actions merged together, everything just fell so neatly into place.
The humorous elements of both parts of the tale were juxtaposed beautifully with the friendships that formed between this band of outsiders. Allan’s laidback attitude to life (and his lack of interest in politics) allows him to happily converse with virtually everyone he meets, from a gangland boss to a runaway elephant to Chairman Mao. Although many parts of this book were so farfetched, we all found ourselves adopting the same carefree attitude as the hundred year old man. Yes, his story was completely fantastical and there were perhaps too many coincidences to be in any way realistic, but so what? Just go with it, enjoy it, and like Allan, believe everything will come good in the end.
Unanimously loved. Five stars.