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on 28 August 2012
Whatever you're doing, stop it and read this book.

Without giving too much away, Allan decides to do a bunk from his nursing home on his hundredth birthday, accidentally stealing a gangster's suitcase containing fifty million crowns. He is thereafter sought out as a missing person, fugitive and target by the police and moneyless gang.

What unfolds is nothing short of the most fun, ridiculous and bizarre romp Sweden has ever seen.

Running parallel to the present day (2005) account is a retrospective on our hero's life, from 1905 to present. His adventures take him all over the world, hopping from the frying pan of one major world event and into the fire of the next. A plethora of world leaders feature, along with some other significant historical figures, which Allan happens upon in the most random way.

Because all of Allan's adventures are entirely accidental, and because he rarely recognises the significance of what he is doing, it's just mental enough to be more or less, almost credible. The absolute unlikeliness of one scatter brained, apolitical chap ambling across the globe, causing everything of relevance over the last one hundred years simply adds to the book's unique charm. Allan meets Stalin was a particular favourite episode of mine.

The modern-day (fictitious) characters are also a colourful bunch and compliment Allan in various, fitting ways. We are treated to a short backstory for each of them too, and their pasts contribute to their current function. Writers immediately command more respect when they acknowledge their characters had lives before the plot, and are not just the sum of events since page 1. Although there is rather a clump of histories presented to us early on, they're well worth reading.

Jonasson's writing style is simply fantastic. Plot and characters aside, the book is entertaining purely for the writer's narration. His writing style is warm and funny, and makes it so easy and enjoyable to just glide through the book.

While it seems impossible to conclude the drama in a sensible yet satisfactory way, Jonasson so easily pulls one thread to make the tapestry of events clear. The dénouement is perfect in every way - one you want, one that's not cheating, very clever and incredibly hilarious.

Funny but intelligent, witty but well-researched. Overall, a nigh on faultless chronicle of one man's adventure, pre- and post- his 100th birthday. The biggest downside is simply how much you miss the charming chappy after the curtain comes down on the ride of your, and his, life.
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VINE VOICEon 2 September 2012
There is a lot of hype about this book and the reviews on here are totally enthusiastic which kind of convinced me to give it a go. I certainly enjoyed parts of the book - more particularly the earlier sections. There are some amusing and clever twists to the tale - but they become increasingly far-fetched and somewhat repetitive. It reminded me somewhat of William Boyd's (much better in my opinion) 'Any Human Heart' which explored the life of one man viewed against the backdrop of the 20th century but in a much more satisfying and believable way. In Boyd's book I experienced genuine emotion and could identify with the ups and downs of his main character, Logan Mountstuart. By the end of this book, I'd lost any real interest in what was going to happen to the characters, because basically nothing bad ever does. They lead charmed lives - getting away, literally, with murder. So the story works at the level of farcical escapism, but because it's so long it becomes a bit tedious in the end. I guess the one question it leaves you pondering is "Is there a window that I need to climb out of?" - but because the adventures of Allan and his crew are so improbable, the narrative doesn't really help you to answer that question. If it's farce you're after, I'd recommend Michael Frayn's 'Skios' which, to my mind, works much better than this.
So overall, not bad for long journeys, but ultimately empty and unsatisfying.
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If you thought that Sweden only produced dour and depressing crime books, then think again. Jonas Jonasson has here produced a comic gem that has been gaining popularity by word of mouth alone.

Meet Allan Karlson, it is the 2nd May 2005, and he is just about to have a hundredth birthday party arranged by the old people's home, where he resides. This isn't what Allan wants though, so climbing out of his window he does a bunk. After stealing a suitcase on wheels he starts a manhunt for him, with both the police and criminals after him. As he progresses on his road trip he meets and makes friends with a host of unusual characters.

If that wasn't funny enough and ripe for comedy we also have another story as such, as we are also shown Allan's life. Allan has always tried to avoid politics, but throughout the 20th Century, there he is, with some of the big players of the time.

This book is never boring, it will have you laughing away at its comic incidents and characters. Allan just looks for the basics in life, a roof over his head, food and a drink. Ultimately he becomes someone whom you can't help liking as you find out more about him, and the same goes for other characters in this book. Although there are deaths here ultimately this book is life affirming, and remember, you are never too old to have some adventure and fun.

This paperback edition also contains a short interview with the author, as well as a reading group guide. Indeed this would make great book for a group to read.
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on 27 August 2012
I was completely blown away by this book. It brought to mind the early Tom Sharpe novels; irresistibly my mind kept floating away to a landscape peopled by eccentric old men, inefficient criminals, Peter Sellers in Pink Panther, all the caricatures of television farce.

I won't detail the plot, you can see that from the other reviews, and by reading the blurb, that it concerns an eccentric pensioner with attitude, with a life story to match, who holds one's attention all through the book. He needs his vodka and can't stand the thought of his Centenary party at the old people's home in which he has ended up where the Matron has been attempting to institutionalise him and take all the joy of choice from his life so, on a sudden whim, he hops out of the window and legs it to the bus station. The other sudden whim, nearly his undoing, was to then hop on the bus with someone else's suitcase, entrusted to him by the owner, who had popped into the loo. So the tale begins.

It is peopled by real political leaders acting in fairly unbelievable ways (at least, I hope they are !) and yet there is a warning message running through this book on several levels, the least of them being a warning not to take anyone too seriously. Especially leaders of countries, matrons of retirement homes, in fact, anyone in authority, whether voted in or not.

Some people won't like the way it goes from past to present, but when someone is one hundred years old, I am not sure there would be enough `present' to build the story on. And it is the past which is so interesting, from a world political point of view, to someone like me who hates anything historical and especially about war. I have assimilated things that I have steadfastly refused to dwell on, and the comical presentation almost makes it more believable than the truth.

Do read this book if you want something to hold your attention, take you back to your father's youth and most of all, if you want something to make you laugh.

Twitter link @GensPlace
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VINE VOICEon 1 September 2012
Allan is a hundred years old today, but he doesn't want to stay around for his party in the home in which he is resident, so he climbs out of the window and escapes.

This is the start of Allan's journey (into perhaps a fourth age?), and he becomes involved with a variety of characters - some criminal, and some merely suspect - and is also involved in a several deaths along the way. All Allan really wants is somewhere to live, a bit of company and a plentiful supply of vodka, but he get a great deal more than he has bargained for as his adventures begin. The present-day narrative is interspersed with Allan's back story from his youth until the present, and he has led a very eventful life. His expertise in the field of explosives has led him round the world (sometimes accidentally), and he has come into contact with, among others, President Truman, Mao Tse Tung, and Stalin; all, again, accidentally. He has a charming, almost innocent approach to life, and is a most endearing character. While he has no interest whatsoever in politics, he somehow can't avoid becoming involved, and changes sides as fate dictates, with scant regard to his own safety.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable romp of a novel. What is particularly satisfying is that the humour (and at times, this novel is very funny indeed) translates beautfully from the Swedish, so full marks to the translator, who has done a wonderful job. My only (tiny) reservation would be that some of the descriptive passages are a little over-long, but I have no hesitation in recommending the book. I don't think anyone can fail to enjoy it.
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on 24 June 2015
First let me say one thing, I do not like leaving bad reviews for books. I have never before felt so compelled by a book to leave a bad review. Normally, if I don't like a book I just don't review it, but this book compelled me to write. I am now half way through this novel and it pains me to have to finish it, but unfortunately it would pain me even more NOT to finish it because I hate not finishing books. After reading half the novel, all I have to say is that this book is truly truly boring. I am bored to tears. I do not want to finish it because I can't concentrate on it due to boredom. I am disappointed because the idea of a man jumping out the window on his hundredth birthday seems like such an interesting plot, yet this man's journey just doesn't work in my opinion. It's not so much that what happens is farfetched, but that it is not pulled off. It is simply not interesting enough to work. Everything in the book is told, not shown, and I found myself feeling like I was just reading words on a page. At no point was I immersed in the story, I was simply trying to get to the end. I have not yet managed to complete the book because I can't bear to read more than a few pages at a time. I really can't think of anything else to say, just don't waste your time. I can't believe this has 8,000+ reviews and most of them are glowing.
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on 29 December 2012
This book came highly recommended, but I have to say it is one of the few books I simply could not be bothered to finish! A Swedish friend , who had read it in its original Swedish some time ago , did warn me... I tried, I really did, but it all got too silly- and not in a good way.In our book club of seven, only one liked it, and the rest , like me, felt life was too short to go on reading it.Were we all missing something??
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 June 2013
Two of the most enjoyable aspects about reading novels are to come across very interesting works from smaller or specialist publishers, and to read books from debut authors that take the novel into new areas and which, undoubtedly, will lead to other writers trying to do something similar.

This first book by Jonas Jonasson, translated from the Swedish by Rod Bradbury, and published by Hesperus Press, a publisher that focuses on "unjustly neglected or simply unknown [works] in the English-speaking world" hits both targets.

There are two stories told in this book; firstly, the series of outrageous adventures that follow the escape of the centenarian, Allan Karlsson, from his Old People's Home, where alcohol is banned, in the town of Malmkoping shortly before the public celebration of his 100th birthday and, secondly, his equally interesting life story.

Born in 1905, the son of a railway worker and a mother who is a supporter of women's suffrage, Karlsson takes an early interest in chemical explosives, a subject which reappears through his life. This life takes in many of the momentous events of the century (including Los Alamos, the Korean and Cold Wars, the Paris Riots of 1956) and meetings with, amongst others, Franco, President Truman, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Mao, Kim Il-Sung and his emotional son, Kim Jong Il (which is sure to undermine media reports of future 21st century North Korean belligerency), Beria and Stalin, Churchill and de Gaulle.

The book was gestating in the author's mind for so long that he must have considered many, many more events and people, and the ones he has finally included make a varied and interesting collection. Perhaps one or two of the stories about his life might have been shortened to produce a somewhat shorter book which would have attracted readers rather put off by over 380 pages.

However, this is to carp at what is an engaging and enjoyable read. The author's gentle humour, most often expressed through Karlsson, does not clash with the many horrible events through which his life weaves, including wars, revolutions and the Gulag. The book provides an interesting introduction to key events of the 20th century and, as such, might appeal to readers always put off by the formalities of "History".

The stories about the present and the past link very well and, by not introducing too many characters into the former, the author retained this reader's interest throughout. One of the pleasures of the book is the introduction of minor characters who disappear after a few pages and leave one wondering (or googling) whether they are mere figments of the author's imagination. Thus Kirill Meretsov was indeed a famous Soviet military commander, but presumably did not have his uniform stolen, whilst the intellectually-challenged Herbert Einstein, who nevertheless, played a major role in some of Karlsson's escapades, is, sadly, no relation of Albert's.

Karlsson's regime for reaching 100 seems to be an unquenchable thirst for vodka, a love of languages and a total dismissal of politics and religion, and who is to say that he is not right. He is a wonderful creation for the reader since very little description is given in the novel, apart from the fact that he grew long hair and a beard over many years.

The translation is a bravura performance and, given the stated aim of Herperus Press, it is a pity that Rod Bradbury's name was not included on the cover.

Jonasson's next book, if it appears, will be much more difficult to write because his readership will already have extremely high expectations. However, I wish him well.
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on 24 January 2013
I'm so glad to read that other people hated this as much as I did. I tried. I got to the point where he stole the suitcase and got to the cabin. But it just felt such a waste of time to read. It was irritatingly repetitive. It was like reading a children's book, where they repeat two or three phrases over and over. If I heard the description of the bad guy one more time I thought I would burn it. I genuinely think it would make a great picture book for kids.
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on 26 September 2012
100 year old Allan runs away from his nursing home. Theft and murder ensue. He meets new friends. Parallel to this picaresque adventure we are told the equally picaresque story of Allan's life, involving world travel, Truman, Churchill, Stalin, Mao and de Gaulle and explaining Allan's pivotal if unacknowledged role in many of the major events of the twentieth century.

The century (and Allan's life) start in 1905. I don't think it is coincidence that this is when Albert Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity. Indeed, Einstein's dim half-brother and the atom bomb are both central to Allan's tale.

So in some ways this novel is a satirical view of the events of the twentieth century. In other ways it seems to be an ironic version of Voltaire's Candide. Whilst Candide features violent (apparent) death and resurrection, The hundred year old man features violent death and (apparent) resurrection. Where Lisbon is destroyed in Candide, Vladivostok is destroyed in The hundred year old man. Both describe near-impossible events in mundane, matter-of-fact prose. In Candide the motto of Dr Pangloss is 'All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds'; this is Voltaire's most sarcastic irony as he piles disaster on disaster. Allan's motto is 'Things are what they are, and whatever will be will be' which enables Allan to endure castration, repeated incarceration and several death penalties with Panglossian sang froid.

But although this book is equally entertaining it does not have the philosophical depth which makes Candide great literature. Nor did I laugh a lot. But if you like easy reading this may be for you.
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