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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Invoice

Jonas Karlsson

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To purchase The Invoice

Title: The Invoice
Author: Jonas Karlsson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 204 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: The Invoice - US
The Invoice - UK
The Invoice - Canada
La facture - France
  • Swedish title: Fakturan
  • First published in the collection Spelreglerna
  • Translated by Neil Smith

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Our Assessment:

B- : gentle comedy that doesn't add up

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 20/1/2016 Arifa Akbar
The Observer . 10/1/2016 Lettie Kennedy

  From the Reviews:
  • "There is gentle comedy, too, in his discovery of his own capacity for joy -- this story can almost be envisioned as a quirky indie film, the kind that befits an actor-writer such as the Swedish Karlsson. The Invoice is a refreshingly odd book, told in a distinctive voice with a strong resistance to conformity at its heart." - Arifa Akbar, The Independent

  • "The Invoice is a gentle satire on materialism and spiralling global debt, and while Karlsson’s central conceit does not stand up to much scrutiny, his modern-day fable is nonetheless entertaining, thought-provoking and delivered with a good humour that makes it hard to resent its irrepressible hero." - Lettie Kennedy, The Observer

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 thirty-nine-year-old narrator of The Invoice begins his story with the arrival of an invoice from 'W.R.D.', demanding payment of 5,700,000 Swedish kronor. A part-time video store clerk who barely has any savings, lives in simple circumstances, and never really splurges on anything, he can't imagine that it is meant to be taken seriously. As it turns out, he hasn't been paying attention: he's somehow missed and overlooked the announcements, and he is not the only one to get an invoice from World Resources Distribution: the powers that be have apparently decided that people have enjoyed a free ride long enough, and it's time to pay up: "Hasn't it ever occurred to you that you should be paying your way ?" a company representative tells him when he asks for an explanation.
       What is unusual about his case, and invoice, is the amount he's expected to pay: based on a complex formula, it basically taxes everyone on how happy they've been with their lives -- and his totals are through the roof. Indeed, when they go over his information again they reassess the amount he owes -- and come up with higher totals; ultimately, the original invoice looks like a bargain.
       The narrator is a kind of an oblivious person -- obviously, since he's missed the ad-campaign and preparations that WRD rolled out. He doesn't watch much TV (and obviously isn't really paying attention when he does), and didn't think to wonder what those questionnaires -- sent by WRD, to assess him and determine what he owes -- he filled out were for. Say what you will about the big bureaucracy, they have him pegged right: "He's almost a textbook example of the Live for today template".
       The basic idea here isn't half-bad -- and the Big Brother-like global bureaucracy charged with overseeing collection is reasonably amusingly developed -- but The Invoice is a flimsy construction. The narrator's stand-out happiness is never really convincing -- sure, he admits: "I was actually pretty happy with my life", and he's had little tragedy, but he did lose the great love of his life and doesn't really interact with society much (he's a video store clerk in the twenty-first century, for god's sake !); if surprisingly well-adjusted, it's still hard to see him as an exemplar of society at its happiest.
       Part -- or even much -- of the humor is apparently meant to come from the fact that he's a poor schlub with no assets and no real job prospects who could obviously not pay off such a huge amount over ten lifetimes -- but the flaws in the accounting system and rationale behind the program (how many such deadbeats could the system afford before it falls apart ?) are ignored. The authorities also admit: "Your category mostly consists of people with relatively large assets", as happiness (or, in their official nomenclature, 'Experienced Happiness') apparently otherwise correlates rather simply with wealth in Karlsson's world -- a simplistic worldview that doesn't seem to reflect reality very well (and while the narrator is meant to be a counter-example -- money doesn't buy happiness ! -- by making him such a stand-out exception to an otherwise pretty hard-and-fast-looking rule Karlsson does nothing but reinforce the idea). Beyond that, the purpose and the logistics of the 'redistribution' of monies behind this huge project are also never made clear, and the consequences never explored.
       The Invoice is also a love story. Surprisingly for someone who admits: "how little it took for me to become keen on a woman" the narrator doesn't complain about the apparent complete lack of romance in his life (and it hasn't impacted his 'Experience Happiness' numbers either ...), after losing the one great love of his life. But in his dealings with WRD he falls for the customer representative on the other end of the phone line, Maud Andersson .....
       Karlsson's protagonist is presumably meant to demonstrate that you can be happy and a good person even without money and grand ambitions. The narrator is a nice enough guy, and he seems to have a positive influence on those around him. But there's no getting around the fact that he also exists largely apart from society, partaking in relatively little of day-to-day life, and oblivious to much of the world around him. He encounters few customers at his job, obviously doesn't follow the news, and for the most part exists as an island -- hardly an ideal to emulate. Or is Karlsson saying that only by ignoring the ugly real world can we possibly find happiness ?
       No, the philosophy of this novel is a mess, and Karlsson doesn't do himself or readers any favors with his rickety construction, very little of which seems to have been thought through beyond the modestly amusing basics (big invoice for little man ! faceless bureaucracy demanding money from everyone !).
       It reads easily and entertainingly enough, but The Invoice ultimately doesn't add up.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 July 2016

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The Invoice: Reviews: Other books by Jonas Karlsson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Jonas Karlsson was born in 1971.

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