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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The 100-Year-Old Man
Who Climbed Out the Window
and Disappeared


by
Jonas Jonasson


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared



Title: The 100-Year-Old Man
Author: Jonas Jonasson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 384 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: The 100-Year-Old Man - US
The Hundred-Year-Old Man - UK
The 100-Year-Old Man - Canada
The Hundred-Year-Old Man - India
Le vieux qui ne voulait pas fêter son anniversaire - France
Der Hundertjährige, der aus dem Fenster stieg [...] - Deutschland
Il centenario che saltò dalla finestra e scomparve - Italia
El abuelo que saltó por la ventana y se largó - España
  • Swedish title: Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann
  • Translated by Rod Bradbury

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Our Assessment:

C+ : genial tone and concept, but disappointingly facile

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 24/7/2012 Jane Housham
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/12/2012 Juliet Lapidos
Publishers Weekly . 16/7/2012 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "Fast-moving and relentlessly sunny, the novel quickly develops into a romp that takes in all the major events of the 20th century. (.....) (T)he plot is pleasingly nimble and the book's endearing charm offers a happy alternative to the more familiar Nordic noir." - Jane Housham, The Guardian

  • "It’s a cute premise, but the right-place-right-time concept obviously isn’t original (see Forrest Gump and Zelig). Moreover, it’s easy to predict what will happen to Allan, since his life follows the course of a 20th-­century history textbook." - Juliet Lapidos, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Jonasson’s laugh-out-loud debut (a bestseller in Europe) reaches the U.S. three years after its Swedish publication, in Bradbury’s pitch-perfect translation." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a two-track book, moving back and forth between the present day, in which Allan Karlsson decides to flee the Old Folks' Home in Malmköping where he lives on his hundredth birthday, and the past, describing Allan's hundred-year (and, in part, very eventful) life. Unfortunately, there are problems with both strands.
       The story gets off to a decent enough start, as Allan slips out in his slippers and manages to clear out of town, misappropriating something useful along the way -- which, however, its owners are very eager to get back. Soon enough not only the authorities but also some criminals are after him, but Allan makes new friends and proves fairly elusive, and if not always fully one step ahead of his pursuers manages to deal with those that catch up to him too. There's some fun here -- the bumbling authorities, embarrassed that they can't even find a hundred-year-old man (and then their embarrassing failures in trying to make him out to be a sort of master criminal), as well as the very rag-tag criminals -- but the problem here is that the adventures proceed on kids'-book-level. (yes, there's even an elephant -- in a bus .....) Granted, these adventures are not meant to be plausible -- but they're at an age-ten-reading-level simplistic. And yet they're also not fantastically far enough over the top to be satisfying as pure fantasy, either.
       A similar failure of the imagination hampers the second storyline, covering Allan's long life. Jonasson does a decent job of presenting Allan as a happy-go-lucky kind of guy who takes things as they come and doesn't complain about too many hardships, and if not too realistic either, his becoming an expert in blowing things up makes for a decent start to the life-account. Unfortunately, Jonasson insists on using Allan's expertise in handling explosives to have him (almost always simply chance-)encounter and assist a variety of the world's leaders over the years, beginning with Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. He becomes drinking buddies with Truman, and meets, among others, Stalin and Mao too. And provides the key insight into one major explosive feat.
       It's all well and good to have a character be involved in major historical events and encounter important personalities -- George MacDonald Fraser milked this premise for all it was worth in his wonderful Flashman-series -- but unfortunately Jonasson goes about it so incredibly lazily that there's little amusement (or anything else) to be derived from it here. The encounters are generally very unrealistic, but even that could be forgiven if Jonasson played them out entertainingly. But instead they're just all-too-brief and often awkward steps on Allan's world- and life-tour. Not surprisingly, Jonasson is most successful when he's at his most creative, not with a real encounter-with-fame but in inventing a character, Einstein's brother (though even he is presented too simplistically -- as a simpleton, of course).
       For long stretches, too, little happens in Allan's life (yes, it's a long life, but still ...), only for him to suddenly find himself back in the middle of things -- Paris, 1968 ! -- as Jonasson fails to develop a character-portrait over time, preferring to simply focus on a few big events (most of which he does not get nearly enough out of).
       If the immature level of the narrative weren't bad enough, Jonasson also makes the unfortunate choice of killing off several characters. Cartoonish though these deaths are, they leave a very sour aftertaste to the whole story, and certainly render it far less wholesome. Indeed, for what is apparently meant to be a genial, comic novel the immorality and indifference to human life on display here is shocking.
       Jonasson apparently couldn't decide what he wanted his novel to be. Allan's present-day adventures make for a reasonably amusing tale of bumbling about -- by Allan and his friends (complete with elephant), the criminals in hot pursuit, and the authorities -- and there's a foundation (and some decent writing) to this part that makes for an okay read. Allan's past is more of a muddle, presented in fits and spurts, and always at its best when far away from any actual historical figures; the encounters with history, on the other hand, are simply awful. Jonasson has some talent -- a lot of these scenes are amusing (though he has no handle whatsoever on what are meant to be the historical ones), and he has some decent ideas (he fares much better with pure invention than when he tries to tie history into the story) -- but tries way too much here. The ugly deaths Jonasson weaves in undermine some of the sympathy Allan is presumably meant to arouse, and the forced comedy of aspects of this (a corpse winds up in Djibouti, to meet yet another end, for example ...) really make for an ill fit to the story. And if you're going to include an elephant in a story, you really should do more with it, too.
       The concept, and the fundamental tone, are appealing, but The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is ultimately to much of a misshapen muddle.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 October 2012

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Links:

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared: Reviews: Jonas Jonasson: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Jonas Jonasson was born in 1961.

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© 2012 the complete review

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