What a charming, feel-good read this novel is. It is humorous and quirky and – without in the least spoiling the plot – it has a happy ending.
Delightful, in a word.
Allan Karlsson is 100 years old, and well and truly fed up of the old people’s home where he lives, and he is especially fed up of the tyrannical Director Alice. So, with just a few minutes to go before his 100th birthday party, he climbs out of the window and, yes, he disappears.
He disappears into a world of picaresque adventures and tantalising almost-historic-moments.
As we accompany the delightfully unflappable and unshockable Allan on his adventures, which all start when he swipes a suitcase entrusted to him by a loutish thug at the bus station who needs to go to the loo…yes, quite…as I said, as we accompany Allan on his new post-100th birthday life, we also go back into his history, one amazing adventure at a time.
There is an oddball cast of contemporary friends who gradually join him in his great escape, and as for the historical characters we meet through him…Chairman Mao, Mrs Chiang Kai Shek, Stalin, Churchill, Truman, De Gaulle, Franco, Nixon – you name them, they were all, apparently, baffled, confuddled and bemused (one suspects) at some point by the quirky, totally politically disinterested Allan.
All Allan wants is a quiet life with lots of vodka and absolutely no political talk whatsoever, and so he manages to have non-political yet far-reaching discussions with the leading figures of the 20th century, and since many of these conversations are indeed vodka-laced, the fallout from his conversations are often hilarious, and, yes, let’s admit it, totally believable.
Unwittingly, Mr. Karlsson has spent decades influencing world history.
Surely I am not the only person to have Googled to check whether General Franco was indeed nearly blown up near a bridge, or whether Vladivostok burned down?
Einstein didn’t have a brother, either, but oh, how I wish he had. And as for his dotty wife, Amanda. What a rock star she is.
The humour in this book is low key, but builds up increasingly as you read on, and it is a style of humour that is gentle and forgiving – although interspersed with moments of pure ghoulishness.
In an almost lackadaisical way Allan and his mates manage to kill quite a few unsavoury characters off, as they galumph through the Swedish countryside, but such is Allan’s laid-back 100-year-old charm that you, too, mentally shrug your shoulders at another death, reasoning that he was a baddie anyway, so what the heck?
There is one absolutely delicious part in the book when the police finally catch up with the murderous Allan and his jolly band of men + woman + elephant + dog. (Yes. Really. An elephant in Sweden)
Explanations are required of these suspected thieves and murderers, and the centenarian and his gang do a brilliant job. As they painstakingly retell their version of their escapades, they neatly tie up all the unexplained, and downright unexplainable, loose ends. As I read this part of the book, I kept thinking that it was cleverly written like the all-too-pat explanations that often neatly tie up loose ends at the end of less skilled stories. This time, though, it is fabulous, as the merry band of men (and the foul-mouthed, red-headed Beauty) rewrite history to suit the version they want the cops to believe. Allan, who is the sprightliest, most un-muddle-headed centenarian you could wish to meet, deliberately becomes muddle-headed, lacing his version of events with confusing reminiscences about Churchill and Stalin and Franco. Great fun.
My favourite moment?
Oh, Allan standing outside the theatre in freezing Moscow, as the movers and shakers of the establishment and the KGB stream out after a show. Allan holds up a hand written sign with the name of the man he wishes to meet, and every Russian spy and cop worth his salt dismisses this as the work of a crank. No normal person would do such an obvious thing, now, would they ?
A fun read.
Published in English in 2012 by Hesperus Press, the paperback costs £8.99
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