Definitely the jolliest Swedish book I’ve ever read! Somehow Swedish novels – and I must confess I’ve only read Swedish crime novels – tend to be heavy and dark.
The novel is a surreal comedy, a sort of Charlie Chaplin (i.e. the 100 year old Allan,) on steroids; a tall story, a funny story, and actually a very skilful exposition about the utter futility of politics and war.
There are parallel strands : 100 year old Allan Carlsson – an explosives expert, who really enjoys a drink or two, escapes from the Old Age Home on his 100th birthday. He escapes slowly and ineptly, but en route manages to get tangled up with criminals, has a huge adventure, makes new friends, and gets married for the first time at age 101. The second strand is alternate chapter flashbacks to Allan Carlsson’s remarkable life, which takes the reader through the decades. The mild Allan meets every world leader of note (Stalin, Mao, Harry Truman, to mention a few) and plays a part in world events. Along the way Jonasson points out the weaknesses of all the “isms’” that his hero encounters. Actually, to be accurate, the mild Allan is more of an anti-hero, than a hero. It’s an engaging read, with the daring insertion of a live adult elephant , yes, a real, live elephant, into the Swedish countryside!
The novel was greatly acclaimed; rightly so. It’s fresh and inventive and belongs in the Mann Booker Nomination Lists.