Or The 100 Year Old Man for short.
This was a great book, based on a charming idea, with a title which is designed to be intriguing. It’s very funny in places and gently amusing all the way through, though based on a similar premise throughout – the rebel as hero, the victim as conqueror. It’s a sort of Swedish Forrest Gump – with the innocence of Gump replaced by the innocence of old age – at first an old age that has gone beyond social constraints – a bit like Jenny Jones – When I am Old I shall wear purple. Allan runs away from the old people’s home and the dictatorial warden on his 100th birthday; so far so ordinary. He defeats the local hoodlum, and the plot broadens to show Allan Karlsson’s life across the twentieth century.
The chapters alternate between the present day – Allan on the run from the police with a suitcase of money, an elephant and a gang of cronies – and Allan’s past, in which he appears at many of the crucial moments of history. The dual narrative allows Jonas to pop off at Swedish society and pretty much every ideology and significant historical figure of the last 100 years. It’s a shaggy dog story, totally unbelievable and very amusing. The narrative is driven by coincidence after coincidence, often hilariously, never with cruelty, but mostly its moral standpoints are rather trite – juvenile in a way – both in their simplicity and their naive emphasis on the freedom of the individual and the amorality of power and social structures.
In Allan Karlsson’s world paradise is a vodka on a tropical beach. It would be a poorer world if that was all there was to life, and in this book there is compassion and humanity. At heart though it’s an adolescent.