The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

The sort of book I buy for the cover

The sort of book I buy for the cover

This is the sort of book you may pick up and read purely based on the title (see also ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’ and ‘The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts’).  In my case, that’s partly true, but also because it was on special offer on the Kindle.

Originally written in Swedish, it follows the adventures of said 100 year old man, Allan Karlsson.  Recently moved into a residential home, Allan is alert and spritely for his age and certainly not ready to slow down.  After making his escape, he spontaneously steals a suitcase and travels across Sweden, creating a motley crew of friends along the way (including a pet elephant).  What Allan doesn’t anticipate is that the suitcase contains thousands in stolen cash and he unknowingly is being chased by a psychotic drug-dealing motorcycle gang leader and the police.

Alongside this story is the story of Allan’s long life, his achievements and political allies.  It’s a sort of Forrest Gumpian story, with Allan creating the A-Bomb, befriending Truman, Stalin, Mao and Franco throughout the years.

Ok, so it’s not great literature, but it is an entertaining read.  It’s easy enough to get into and reads pretty well.  I did find myself wondering when it would end though.  I reckon it could do with being ¾ quarters of the length it is.  There are only so many world leaders Allan can befriend after all, even after 100 years on the planet.

Sample Text:

“I shall destroy capitalism! Do you hear! I shall destroy every single capitalist! And I shall start with you, you dog, if you don’t help us with the bomb!’
Allan noted that he had managed to be both a rat and a dog in the course of a minute or so. And that Stalin was being rather inconsistent, because now he wanted to use Allan’s services after all.
But Allan wasn’t going to sit there and listen to this abuse any longer. He had come to Moscow to help them out, not to be shouted at. Stalin would have to manage on his own.
‘I’ve been thinking,’ said Allan.
‘What,’ said Stalin angrily.
‘Why don’t you shave off that moustache?’
With that the dinner was over, because the interpreter fainted.”

Further Reading:

If you liked the Scandinavian motorcycle gangs you might like The Girl Who Played With Fire

If you like the eccentricities in old age you might like Mr. Rosenblum’s List


Everything Is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer

“I don't think that there are any limits to how excellent we could make life seem.”  Everything Is Illuminated

“I don’t think that there are any limits to how excellent we could make life seem.” Everything Is Illuminated

I admit it, I’m totally fickle.  I bought this book purely because I like the front cover.  My local charity shop sells books for 20p so I can afford to do this and it’s something I’d recommend doing occasionally as you never know what gems you might find.

Straight away with this book I was sold.  The opening chapter is narrated by Alex, a young Ukrainian who has been hired to translate for Jonathon Safran Foer, an American Jew.  Jonathon has travelled to Ukraine to seek out Augustine, a woman who helped his grandfather escape the Nazis.  Although the author himself features in the book, it is fictional.  The book unravels in three strands – the first is Alex’s description of escorting ‘Jon fen’ around Ukraine, with his faux-blind grandfather as driver and stinking ‘seeing eye bitch’ Sammy Davis Junior Junior, in the search for Augustine.  SO…DO THEY EVER FIND HER?

The Book With No Name – Anonymous

The Book With No Name - A Novel (Probably)

The Book With No Name – A Novel (Probably)

Once again, this is a book I bought purely because of the cover.  It intrigued me, the only thing written as the blurb on the back said that anyone who read this book ended up being killed.  Perhaps it’s morbid fascination, but I decided to give it a go.  I’m still here, by the way, so don’t be put off by the death threat!

Ok, so where on earth do I begin explaining the story? *takes deep breath…

It’s set in Santa Mondega – a town populated by gangsters, low-lifes and hit-men.  and the action begins in a bar with a mass shooting by The Bourbon Kid.  He kills everyone except the bartender and a girl, who survives her shooting but in left in a 5 year coma.  A local officer is sent in to investigate and it soon becomes apparent that the root of all the evils in the town in a mysterious stone called The Eye Of The Moon – a stone which has the power to stop the moon in it’s path, thus plunging the world into eternal darkness, creating an ideal world for the undead. SO IT’S ABOUT VAMPIRES THEN?

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

“Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."

“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

So, I’ve been working my way through the BBC’s Book List challenge and there’s several books I’ve been putting off reading.  War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Ulysses etc.  I think you can probably guess why I’m putting off reading them!  But I’d also been putting off Catch 22.  Not for the same reasons though, I wanted to save it so I’d still have a fun book to read amongst all those weighty classics.  In the end I gave in, I wanted to see what I’ve been missing out on all this time. SO…WAS IT WORTH THE WAIT?

A Confederacy Of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

“I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.”   Ignatius J. Reilly

“I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.” Ignatius J. Reilly

Published several years after Toole’s death, this book quickly became a cult classic.  It won the Pulitzer prize posthumously for Toole and is recognised as a classic of modern American literature.  Quite right too.  This book is superb!  Daft, funny, clever, witty and colourful it follows the life of Ignatius J Reilly of New Orleans. HE SOUNDS LIKE A FUN CHAP, TELL ME MORE…

Coconut Unlimited – Nikesh Shukla

Coconut Unlimited - took my right back to my youth

Coconut Unlimited – took my right back to my youth

Coconut Unlimited is an entertaining, nostalgic coming of age story.  What sets it apart from other such books is that the central characters are three Asian boys in an otherwise all white private school.  Isolated from their own community for being posh and not accepted by their class mates for being too Asian they decide their only chance of keeping it real and getting dope girls is to form a hip-hop trio. There is no other way.

The only trouble with this plan is that none of them have any musical knowledge or ability.  Amit (now known as Mit-Dogg) is on mic, Nishant (DJ Dangerous) is on scratching turntable duties and Anand (MC AP) is the hype-man.  Between them they have access to one turntable and a very limited supply of hip-hop.  Instead of actually performing any rap, their group (or should I say posse) spends most of its time planning how ‘fly’ and ‘cool’ they are going to be. HANDS UP IF YOU THINK THEY’LL ACHIEVE COOLNESS

Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas - a bit too much like showing off for my liking

Cloud Atlas – a bit too much like showing off for my liking

Written in 2004, Cloud Atlas consists of six separate stories that span the centuries, ranging from the 19th century to a distant post-apocalyptic future.  The first five stories all are interrupted at a crucial moment and, after the sixth story reaches its conclusion, we return to the first five in reverse chronological order, ending back in the 19th century (Still with me?)

Each story is written in a different style to the previous one.  Whilst I think this is a great skill, it also seemed a bit like showing off to me.  The first four stories I found entertaining enough, but by the fifth and sixth I got rather bored and impatient to return to the fourth.

The first story is entitled The Pacific Diary of Adam Ewing.  Slowly throughout this story, we see how it affects the central character in the second story, entitled Letters From Zedelghem. This story is all told in the form of Letters to and from Robert Frobisher. Again, in the third story (Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery) we see how Frobisher has affected the life of Luisa Rey.  This story is a mystery thriller set in California.

The fourth story is a daft British comedy, The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish.  In this, the protagonist reads a book about Luisa Rey, thereby linking him to the grand scheme of things.  From here, things get futuristic, with the fifth story about a dystopian future and a slave called Sonmi-451.  To my mind, this story is too futuristic, with too much jargon and goes on far too long.  Sonmi-451 watches a film about Timothy Cavendish which is how she links in to the book.

Lastly is Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After.  This is even more distant future after some terrible event known simply as ‘the fall’.  Humans are once again reduced to primitivism and worship a goddess called, yep you guessed it, Sonmi.

Cloud Atlas is quite a challenging book to read.  As the stories jump around I found it didn’t really hold my attention, which has been one of the biggest criticisms of it.  However, it has mostly received praise and positive reviews so I’m willing to accept it’s a good book, but only about half of it was to my taste.

Sample Text:

“To enslave an individual troubles your consciences, Archivist, but to enslave a clone is no more troubling than owning the latest six-wheeler ford, ethically. Because you cannot discern our differences, you assume we have none. But make no mistake: even same-stem fabricants cultured in the same wombtank are as singular as snowflakes.”   from An Orison of Sonmi-451.

“I elbowed my way into the grubby café, bought a pie that tasted of shoe polish and a pot of tea with cork crumbs floating in it, and eavesdropped on a pair of Shetland pony breeders. Despondency makes one hanker after lives one never led. Why have you given your life to books, TC? Dull, dull, dull! The memoirs are bad enough, but all that ruddy fiction! Hero goes on a journey, stranger comes to town, somebody wants something, they get it or they don’t, will is pitted against will. “Admire me, for I am a metaphor.” from The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish.

Further Reading:

If you liked the dystopian future you might like 1984

If you like the detective mystery thriller you might like The Maltese Falcon