Strengths: Definitely original and quirky.
Weaknesses: Even though it’s fiction, I thought it was just too out there at times.
Published: 2012 (translated from the Swedish by Rod Bradbury)
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Setting: Almost everywhere
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
This book, with possibly the longest title of anything I’ve ever reviewed, was a love-hate relationship for me. I picked it up, started reading and really didn’t resonate with it. So I let it be over Christmas and New Year and came back to it. It still didn’t do anything for me. But I persevered and ended up accepting it for the quirky, fantastical book it is and really enjoyed the second half.
I’m trying to think about why I didn’t enjoy the first half. Possibly my reading mood (do you have one of those? Mine can be very fussy at times about choosing books, the other time it’s happy to read the Corn Flakes packet) was a little irritable at the time. This book does force you to accept the very, very long odds of the almost fantastical things that continue to happen to Allan Karlsson over his life. There are no dragons or vampires, but Karlsson seems to be very lucky over his one hundred years and counting. I think it’s more of a book to be read tongue in cheek that to be taken 100% seriously.
There’s no problem with the translation; in fact, I think Rod Bradbury has done a wonderful job. The language lacks that clunkiness you sometimes get in translated works and there’s no references that only a local would understand. The speech does lack quotation marks (why do some authors choose this?) but I found that an easy thing to get past.
The One Hundred Old Man also doesn’t lack for murder and edge of your seat drama. There’s elephants, atomic bombs, American presidents and explosives aplenty. I think to enjoy this book; you need to just be prepared that anything can happen. Take the quirky narrative with a smile. As well as detailing Allen’s adventure beginning on his birthday, it goes through the rest of his life, jumping back and forth. I felt the backstory picked up pace and covered a lot more ground in the latter half of the book (there only so much wild stuff you can do once an elephant joins the team) and I loved the characters of Herbert and Amanda Einstein. Herbert, even though he’s longing for the afterlife, manages to escape death at every opportunity. Amanda, who describes herself as rather unintelligent, manages to make it all the way to the top in her homeland. You couldn’t help but smile at some of the things these characters did entirely unintentionally.
What does this book teach the reader? Enjoy the simple things in life (such as vodka, Allan’s favourite tipple) and do things your own way (though real people may not get away with generous use of explosives).