Media-man’s fee-good potboiler

This is my review of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.

If you can suspend your disbelief that a hundred-year-old man could climb out of a window, drag a heavy suitcase and knock a young healthy person unconscious with a blow from a plank, you may enjoy this tale of his adventures on the run, evading arrest as he accumulates a motley group of new friends. The plot is quite slight, with so little description and character development that it has to be padded out to full novel length by alternating chapters on major incidents in Allan's past life, mainly encounters with the great and the bad – not only a string of American presidents, but Franco, Mao Tse-tung and Stalin, mostly seduced by Allan's apparent knowledge of how to make an atomic bomb.

Allan's affable amorality left me uneasy. Although his stoicism in times of adversity is impressive, and you have to admire his ability to "think on his feet", his periods of wealth and good fortune are based on the proceeds of other people's corruption and criminal activity, including murder or manslaughter, about which he is very casual. I believe this is meant to be a "feel-good novel", but it has an underlying darkness, such as the fact that Allan was one of the mental patients castrated under the infamous former policy of the Swedish government which is generally regarded as so liberal and progressive.

There are some humorous moments, but the plotting is cartoonish. What really grated on me was the quality of the writing. It may have suffered in translation from the Swedish into English but the pedestrian style and wording reminded me of a tired dad at the end of the day making up a bedtime story in the knowledge that it doesn't matter what rubbish he comes up with – all his child really wants is a bit of his attention. The work struck me as slapdash, with a few "continuity errors" and a trite ending as if the author just ran out of steam.

I had to read this for a book group and am relieved that it only cost me 20 pence to download on Kindle.

⭐⭐ 2 Stars

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