Friday, 19 December 2014

Book Review: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (translated from Swedish to English by Rod Bradbury)

Published in 2009, this book received the following awards and nominations: Iris Audiobook Price (2010), Goodreads Choice Nominee (2012), despite receiving mixed reviews online. It seems to have sparked a Marmite reaction in the Goodreads community with the majority feeling being that you either love it or hate it.
My particular copy was a gift from Sweden given to me by my boyfriend (who read it himself first, naturally!). It came with us on our travels and it’s seen London, Hong Kong, Australia’s east coast and Abu Dhabi before settling on my bookshelf in Newcastle – pretty fitting for a book teeming with adventure!

For details on what I'm currently reading you can find me on Goodreads.com HERE

8/10
"The Hundred-Year-Old Man(…) follows, as the title reveals, a gentleman named Allan Karlsson who, on his 100th birthday, escapes his 'Old Peoples Home' and winds up on adventure in which he unfolds the dramatic retelling of his life. This journeys us through interactions with the some of the most influential politicians and events of the century. Along the way, he travels with an interesting bunch of characters while being chased down by the police after leaving a trail of murders behind them.

What’s good about it?
If you take this book for what it is, a piece of light-hearted feel good entertainment, it’s a delight. There are some important messages within it but unusually, they seem to take a step to the side rather than being big focus points to the story. This might be off-putting to some readers but in a lot of ways it adds to the joy of the book by giving life an adventurous facelift from the perspective of someone who has seen it all in place of troubles and stress we so often associate with our day-to-day lives.

Allan’s whimsical approach to everything that happens can be irritating but it also keeps the book plodding along nicely on the strength of his character alone, never mind the bold plotline behind it. His humour does take a little getting used to but if you can get through the book without cracking a smile then you probably don’t spend enough time exercising those facial muscles to begin with!

You don’t need to know a single thing about history to enjoy this book of course but it definitely adds to the experience. Seeing Allan create a fictional impact on huge game-changing (the technical historian term for it, of course!) events over the last century is complimented and appreciated best with a bit of background knowledge. However, I’m sure it’s still as enjoyable without that added depth and might just interest you into learning about an area of recent history that you haven’t come across before.

When deciding to take to this year’s Rainy Days Reads event hosted by Newcastle University, this book jumped out of me. This wasn’t because it was one of my favourite books (it isn’t), or because I thought it was so compellingly fantastic that everyone should drop what they’re doing and read it at once (it wasn’t). But it is the book I’ve read this year that I’d turn to if I was full of cold (which I am), sitting by a window on typical British grey day, hugging a bowl of soup and needing a self-indulgent pick-me-up to steer away some of the winter blues. For that reason, I’d recommend it to anyone that fancies a little lightness on their reading list. Another reason I picked it is because I found this book insanely difficult to keep dipping in and out of. It was just far better to binge-read than to put down for a couple of days and I got a lot more out of it that way. This is partly because of the flashbacks, there are a lot to keep track of, but it also helps to keep up with the quick unfolding of events within the book otherwise the pacing feels a little off. 

While this probably wouldn't make my top ten list for the year despite its high rating, it does feel like it caters to a certain need for silliness and it caters excellently. It just isn't a need I have often when reading books! It would however, in my opinion, make a fantastic film if the flashback structure was carried out pleasingly enough. It’s easy to imagine it being a classic for the family to watch on a slow-moving  Sunday and that’s the vibe it gave off the whole time I was reading it. Alas! There is a film of the book (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2113681/) but I have yet to watch it, you can rest easy knowing I will the next time I'm having those rainy day blues though, you know, my capacity to sit and read subtitles all the way through allowing…

If anyone has seen the film, let me know what you think of it!
I've read a few reviews and it seems to have gone down quite popular, some comparisons with the book would be interesting.
Now, onto the criticisms…

What isn't so great?
As I said at the beginning, you need to take on this book with a certain outlook otherwise it just flops. Miserably. I found sometimes that I would pick it up and all the jokes would make me cringe, the storyline would aggravate me and I was very close to relegating it to live on my bookshelf unread a little longer. A lot of the time, when I went back and reread those passages, I found they were actually pretty good which is why it’d be good advice for anyone to give this book a couple of attempts before outright dismissing it, you just have to catch it when you’re in the right mood I found.

The story is ridiculous and it gets more and more ridiculous as it goes on. This is one of the adorable things that many love about the book but it can leave you sitting there sighing as the events tumble on and something else utterly crazy happens. It could be said that it’s something of an acquired taste, one which I probably don’t enjoy too strongly.

It might just be the structure of the flashbacks or perhaps the jumpy pacing of events but this book feels like it takes forever to read and it isn't even above the ordinary in terms of word count. It just carries a feeling of slow progress and trudging through mud sometimes that you can’t shake off and it isn't the pleasant, ‘oh, I so don’t want this to end’ kind. It’s more along the lines of, “for goodness sake, how much more can this guy stretch out this never-ending jumble of events…?”.

Overall, this book is a mixed bag that leans heavily towards being excellent or swings back round to being cringe-worthy depending on what mood you’re in when you pick it up. If it wasn't for some of the darker themes like murder and nuclear warfare, it would make a brilliant book for children but instead, it’s a children’s book for adults. Ideal for some rainy day escapism but not something I’d like to be stuck reading for say, essay research or a very long queue to see the dentist.”

(Read 20th-30th October, 2014) 


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