Currently 6 in the best-sellers list, I am reliably informed by Amazon that it has been in their top 100 for 247 days. I think, therefore, it is safe to conclude that this book is a popular sensation, and it definitely deserves to be widely read.
Alan Karlsson climbs out of the (ground floor) window of his room at the old people’s home to avoid his hundredth birthday party, looking for one last adventure. He certainly finds action as he is chased down by a criminal gang and the police as he goes on the run with his newly acquired accomplices, including an over-educated hot dog stand owner and an elephant called Sonya. We are also told about Allan’s remarkable life so far. Spanning the twentieth century, he unwittingly influences history and manages to meet many of the most important historical figures. Using real, publicly known people in a novel is often a brilliant device – the author can satirise and subvert expectations, based on common perceptions. The writing is amusingly dead-pan and gets funnier as the book goes on.
There will be innumerable reviews of this best-seller, so for a change, I’m going to answer some of the handily listed ‘Reading Group Discussion Questions’ from the back.
- What do you think are the central themes of the book? Age, friendship, morality, international politics (and its frequent futility/mutability), identity.
- Why do you think the author chose to make the main character one hundred years old? To give him a unique perspective, an excusable amorality and to explore the changing century through a single perspective.
- Did you enjoy the use of humour? Which moments stood out to you? Very much so! Allan comforting the ten year old Kim Jong Il; when he recruited a spy by holding up a large poster; the spoilt batch of bibles (which had to be discarded because a mischievous type-setter wrote ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ at the end); Allan drinking Harry S. Truman under the table.
- Was the end satisfying? I didn’t like everything that happened at the end, though things are tied up successfully and the very last page is highly pleasing indeed.
All in all, a very entertaining book. Have you read it? What do you think of it? Do you have different answers to the above questions? Let me know in the comments!