Book Review: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

It sure has been a while since I’ve actually written about books here, but as I just happened to finish one that I feel rather strongly about, I do feel the need to express some literary opinions.

As a preface, here is a video I made a couple of weeks ago, in which I start off by stating my early opinion of the novel before reading it:

So, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson.

I went into reading this book with skepticism and uncertainty as to how much I would enjoy it, and honestly, I’ve come out of it with almost the same levels of both.

A brief summary: Allan Karlsson, on his 100th birthday, decides he’d like to live a little longer, and escapes his retirement home via his bedroom window. Before long Karlsson manages to steal a suitcase full of drug money and become good friends with a petty criminal, who together run from idiotic gangsters and an even less intelligent detective, picking up more new friends along the way.  While this chase his happening, the last 100 years of Karlsson’s life are explained; from being the subject of questionable scientific experimentation to being on good terms with the likes of Truman, Churchill, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Kim Il-Sung, and more, Allan proves time and time again that he is a man of little education, above average intelligence, and incredible luck.

100-Year-Old Man was certainly an entertaining read with a driving plot that never lulled, and for that reason it was capable of keeping my attention throughout the entire 390 pages. It’s most obviously unique element is it’s lack of realism despite taking place in our own real world. This style was exactly why my friend recommended it to me and loved it, and exactly why I wasn’t so fond of it. It’s humorous to think about the idea of one man being heavily involved in so many major political events of the 20th century, and even more so to think he could get away with so much without losing his life.

For no particular reason, I’ve found that I prefer books with a more serious tone, even if they themselves take place in a fantastical world. So, if you’re looking for characters that take the weight of the situation they’re in seriously, perhaps this isn’t for you, but if you’d like an unbelievable and lighthearted (yet still somewhat dark and violent) novel, I recommend giving this a read.

The other main difference I found between The 100-Year-Old Man and books I normally read and enjoy is the character development. Jonasson has structured his eccentric novel around characters with particularly flat personalities yet exciting lives. Take the main character Karlsson for instance: Allan Karlsson’s entire 100+ year-long life takes place in this novel, and yet he has essentially only four personality traits: he has little education, is good at building bombs, hates politics, and loves vodka. That’s about it, really.

The other characters aren’t much better either, each with one prominent feature (their daftness, foul language, a high education, a criminal record) at the center of their description at all times. I will say I enjoyed the feeling that average people can have beyond average lives, but average people aren’t like Jonasson’s characters. Average people are much more complex than the caricatures he’s written.

This may all be a bit harsh, but I thought it best to be honest. I’m in no way saying the book can’t be enjoyable or that it’s bad or anyone shouldn’t read it, just that it wasn’t my preferred cup of tea.

What about you: have you read The 100-Year-Old Man and had any thoughts on it? Or have you just experienced reading something you weren’t particularly fond of, and felt the need to pick apart why that was? Let me know in the comments, I love talking books.

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