Review: The Hundred Year Old Man…

Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson

Click for the Amazon link!

When I first started this blog I fully intended to talk about what I was reading, but then I started my dissertation and stopped reading anything that wasn’t circus-related, and so that idea went out of the window. Now that last term is only a distant memory, and the sun has finally come out, I’ve had plenty of time to read whatever I want and I have to say I have been loving it!

I’ve had this little gem by Jonas Jonasson on my Kindle for a while now, but I’d been putting off reading it on the grounds that 100 year old men are usually not my kind of protagonist. However, faced with a long train journey and the need to pack light, I had to abandon my other read-in-progress (Capital, by John Lanchester, an absolute brick of a paperback) and eventually gave in to Jonasson.

I had heard only good things about this book, and as it turns out, that is for good reason. I loved it! It’s a light, funny read with an eccentric array of characters that includes a criminal mastermind, an elephant, and almost every major world leader of the 20th century, all tied together by the 100 year old protagonist, Allan. It’s ridiculous to say the least, with two stories essentially running alongside each other: one, the tale of Allan’s escape from his old people’s home and the unbelievable mischief he gets up to along the way, and two, a blunt account of Allan’s quite remarkable life so far. It reads sort of like a Swedish, more intelligent Forrest Gump – it’s very whimsical and surreal, but there is a sense of tongue-in-cheek wryness and dry humour about the whole thing that I really enjoyed.

On a slightly deeper level, I think Jonasson also has a lot to say about politics, corruption and global affairs. It’s subtly done and stays light hearted, but protagonist Allan definitely presents a whole new way of looking at the world that highlights a lot of vital issues relating to current affairs, international relations and so on. I won’t get too English-student, but it’s an interesting way of looking at the novel and I think that’s definitely what lends it its literary merit, as such. Either way, Allan’s “que sera sera” attitude is inspiring if nothing else. I think everyone needs a bit of Allan in them!

As I said, on paper The Hundred Year Old Man… is exactly the kind of thing I’m not into, i.e ageing explosive experts and criminal wild goose chases. In practice, however, it’s a perfect feelgood summer read if you’re looking for something that’s a step up from your average trashy chick lit / awful self published romance but not looking to tax your poor over-stressed mind. Plus, if you’ve got any knowledge of recent history and 20th century world events, it’s a nice little ego boost – a classic case of buttering up the reader’s ego by appealing to your GCSE history knowledge. It’s a winner all round, and as this is only Jonas Jonasson’s first novel, I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for him in the future!

Read Me

There are a million things I should be doing today – dissertation, mainly, and also packing – but I saw this on one of the many other millions of blogs I read, and as an English student, felt compelled to do it.
What are you reading right now?
Currently, A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore, but I left it in Exeter over the holidays ’cause I only have the huge hardback version. On the train home I started reading Infinite Jest which I might persevere with on my flight to Florida on Monday.
Do you have any idea what you’ll read after you’ve finished this book?
The pile of books on my bedside table is ridiculous. I brought The Paris Wife home for holiday reading but then I found Silver Linings Playbook on a bookshelf at home so I might read that one first!
Five books you’ve always wanted to read but have never got round to?
I have actually never read Pride & Prejudice – it’s the only Austen I’ve never read! So that’s definitely on the list. The Time Traveler’s Wife. We Need To Talk About Kevin. Catch-22. On The Road. I could go on!
What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?
I don’t really tend to buy magazines ’cause they don’t keep me entertained for long enough but I think there’s a Company in the living room somewhere and there was a Vogue floating around for a while
What’s the worst book you ever read?
Worst? I have read some awful chick-lit in my time. Super cheap books on Kindle are so tempting but they’re so not worth it half the time!
What book is really popular but you really hated?
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I didn’t really hate it but I just didn’t love it. It took me a long time to finish it, which is super unusual for me. Also, Of Mice and Men! We had to do it for GCSE so that was probably part of it but I didn’t like it at all.
What’s the one book you recommend to everybody?
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. It’s my ultimate favourite book of all time.
What are your three favourite poems?
Hmm I don’t know – I’ve been forced to read so many poems the last three years that it’s hard to say! I really like The Dug-Out by Siegfried Sassoon. Also, Kid by Simon Armitage. Funnily enough I had to read both of those at school – the Sassoon was for AS-Level and Kid for GCSE!
Where do you usually get your books?
Generally Waterstones or Amazon. My very favourite bookshop in the world is Kramerbooks in DC but it’s kind of a long trip…
Where do you usually read your books?
In/on my bed or while travelling
When you were little, did you have any reading habits?
Oh God, I was always, always reading. Like, always.
What’s the last book you stayed up half the night to read?
I’m not sure – maybe The Art of Fielding?
Have you ever ‘faked’ reading a book?
Oh, many a time for a seminar. Never to impress anyone in conversation though!
Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?
Hmm I doubt it. I’m notoriously indecisive and will anguish over what book to buy for, like, hours.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved the Famous Five books, and all the Noel Streatfeild novels. I still read White Boots and Tennis Shoes every now and again. Oh, and Malory Towers! I wanted to go to boarding school so badly!
Which book changed your life?
Hmmm I honestly think Birdsong is one of the reasons I wanted to do English at uni and almost definitely the reason I did so well at AS-Level. So I guess that did to a point.
What is your favourite passage from a book?
I don’t know! It would depend completely on what mood I was in.
Who are your top five favourite authors?
I love Sebastian Faulks, if you couldn’t tell, and I really like John Green (so predictable). Also, Sarra Manning – I love her writing and I follow her on twitter and she’s hilarious. I loved Bret Easton Ellis when I was in 6th form but I’ve kind of gone off him a bit – I think I actually prefer James Frey, even if he did lie a little bit about his “autobiography.” We did A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius in one of my modules last year and I fell a bit in love with Dave Eggers.
What is your favourite classic book?
Ooh I don’t know. I really like Emma. 
Five notable mentions?
I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe because it was so hilariously similar to life at W&M last year
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I prefer it to Gatsby
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld I LOVE IT
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Long long long but so good!
And…the Gossip Girl books. I liked them so much better than the TV series, for ages I just wanted to BE Blair Waldorf (actually I definitely still do…)