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Magwood on Books

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Reviewed: The Hundred-year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, Hesperus

The Hundred-year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and DisappearedThis is one of those slow-burning, word-of-mouth smash hits that publishers long for, like The Poisonwood Bible and The Hare With Amber Eyes. It had already sold two million copies in Europe before being picked up by a British publisher earlier this year. If you’ve come to associate Swedish writing with the icy noir of Henning Mankel and Stieg Larsson, you’re in for a pleasant surprise with this quirky tale of the 100-year-old Allan Karlsson.

As the town dignitaries gather in the room next to his in his old age home, ready to celebrate his great age, Karlsson hops it out of his window and makes a dash – or shuffle – for it. Wearing his “pee” slippers, so-called because old men tend to drip on their slippers, he gets to the local bus station where a rude young man asks him to look after his suitcase while he uses the bathroom. Karlsson nicks the suitcase and boards a bus, not knowing that it contains wads of ill-gotten money. And so begins a picaresque journey across Sweden as the old man stays a step ahead of the pursuing gangsters and the police, gathering a colourful troupe around him.

Interspersed in the pursuit chapters are those that glance back over Karlsson’s life. Like a crepuscular Forrest Gump, he has witnessed extraordinary events in history, meeting Truman, Stalin and Mao, helping to design the nuclear bomb, spending time in a Soviet gulag and going undercover for the CIA. It is hilarious, hugely implausible but somehow believable, .

Karlsson is a delightful character, a mischievous, vodka-nipping old sprite, with a deadpan humour and endlessly equable view on life. It’s a highly original, enjoyable read. Watch out for the movie version which will be released next year.


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