The Man Who Wrote A Book With A Ridiculously Long Title That You Absolutely Must Read, By Jonas Jonasson

By ‘absolutely must’ I mean ‘might like to’, of course.

The long winter draws in, brittle and dry as a glamour model’s hair extensions.  A chill wind fumbles with forlorn Christmas decorations that punctuate the street like misplaced apostrophe’s.  The book sits on my shelf staring at me, reproach in its spine, reminding me that I promised to lend it out and yet have consistently failed to do so.  The book is a Victorian orphan peering sadly through the toyshop window, abandoned and alone.

I’m sorry, book.  Would you forgive me, book?

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of His Window And Disappeared is the debut novel by Jonas Jonasson.

Allan Karlsson is 100 years old.  But rather than celebrate his centenary in the warm, fuzzy confines of his nursing home he clambers out the window and begins a journey across his native Sweden the book’s blurb describes as ‘picaresque’.  This maundering and murderous voyage is interspersed with an account of Allan’s life to date, in which it turns out that he was present at a number of the 20th century’s key moments.

Picaresque, in case you were as unaware of its meaning as I was until right this second, means: of or relating to rascals or rogues.

The professionals claim that the rules are simple: edit, edit some more.  Be prepared to kill your darlings; avoid clichéd turns of phrase like ‘kill your darlings’.  Adjectives are not your friends, nor are similes or puns.  Especially not puns – the only thing less acceptable than a pun is an exclamation mark!  Metaphors should be treated, at best, with suspicion and sentences should be succinct and to the point.  One subject to a sentence, please.  On the subject of succinctness, writing is not an excuse to show off the breadth of your vocabulary, and likewise you should resist the temptation to write in jargon, dialect or argot.  Your characters say things, sometimes they may shout if the circumstances are appropriate: they do not exclaim, intimate, demand or do anything else that suggests you’ve engaged in the act of writing, which is gauche.

‘The professionals’ may never have heard of Gustave Flaubert or James Joyce but they would approve of Jonas Jonasson if writers weren’t all consumed by paralysing envy.

Hundred Year Old Man’s prose style is straightforward and almost child-like in its simplicity, which neatly reflects the character of the protagonist.  This is not to say the book or its hero is/are simple-minded – there is a difference between simplicity and stupidity.  Rather, the book aims at, and achieves, the sort of utilitarian legibility that Ikea instruction manuals tend to lack.  I’m assuming that it was faithfully translated into English.

For those of you who are less pretentious than moi, Hemingway’s iceberg theory of writing runs that the words on the page should be the tip of the iceberg; most of the meaning lies beneath the surface and should be inferred by the reader rather than explicitly stated by the writer.  Hundred Year Old Man is that sort of novel,  although it’s arguably a bit too irreverent for that sort of chin stroking analysis (give that  man a Booker prize).

The plot zips along as quickly as the body count mounts, its gentle (if a little black) humour obscuring the serious points – cotton candy with a hook in it.

It’s a holiday read you won’t need to hide on an ebook.  For best results, team it up with a tall glass of something alcoholic that isn’t some form of banana liquor and doesn’t come with an umbrella.  Preferably vodka based.

Scandinavian books, films and tv shows often tend towards dark and gloomy – bleak affairs that can weigh a little heavy.  Hundred Year Old Man is not that – in fact if there’s a criticism it’s that it risks coming off as rather lightweight; impressive flights of imagination that quickly become a little self-conscious, even repetitive at times.  In a word: superficial.

That’s not how I read it, though.

If you go to bed every night clutching an F Scott Fitzgerald collection to your bosom, the prose might not suit your taste.  If you like your fiction to come with lashings of overt literary pretension, likewise.  For everyone else it’s easy on the eye, it’s got a lot of charm and you might learn something without once feeling like you’re being lectured.

Take me for example: I learned the meaning of the word ‘picaresque’.

75 thoughts on “The Man Who Wrote A Book With A Ridiculously Long Title That You Absolutely Must Read, By Jonas Jonasson

  1. I do not, in fact, go to bed clutching anything written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is possible that a David Foster Wallace novel lives on my nightstand. If true, perhaps this novel is not for me…?

    Also, I don’t know that any ‘best results’ ever resulted from the inclusion of banana liquor. However, it might be a step up from the cookie dough vodka I saw the other day. I only wish I could forget that discovery.

  2. The vodka/umbrella/banana ‘ting is a little nod to the novel, yo…

    Cookie dough vodka sounds rank, even worse than skittles vodka. You dissolve skittles in vodka, you get something that tastes like cough medicine that’s gone off, you wake up hours later feeling quite wrong.

    Always stick to one or two colours of skittles by the way – red and yellow for example, because if you simply dump a whole packet in, the end product is an unpleasant brown sort of colour.

  3. That’s good to know, I’ll keep that in mind the next time I’m contemplating drinking a concoction that might only look appropriate in a Dr. Suess book. At least the cookie dough was artificially flavored. Someone legitimately thought up soaking skittles in vodka, I don’t know whether to be appalled or envious.

  4. I love this post. Considering I’m the blogger whose first post was titled “How my marriage ended with a brick (And no, that’s not me being cute. Or even symbolic. Literally. With a brick. Seriously…You can’t make this sh*t up…),” it may be clear WHY I would love this post: As you can infer, I’m probably not a subscriber to the Hemingway iceberg theory…


    I’m off to try to find a copy of this book — it sounds inspired!

    1. Thank you very much!

      I’m sorry to hear about the brick shenanigans.

      I found the book delightful, but that might not be much of a recommendation…

      1. Ha! No worries — the brick actually inspired far better opportunities in my future, so I’m better off for it. Seriously.

        And “delightful” reading is my favorite kind — so I’m definitely in search of this book! 🙂

  5. “The professionals claim that the rules are simple: edit, edit some more”

    This rule is a must that more should take notice of. Edit your thoughts, edit your speaking, edit before you open your mouth.. but writing especially needs editing.

    1. I’m inclined to agree about the editing part – we should all think before we speak, especially if we’re going to say something hurtful or that we might regret.

      That being said, I don’t know why published authors seem to hate puns so much.

    1. Please do. I bought it on a whim in a 2 for 1 deal, and only because I’d forgotten the book I was reading then. I’m still reading that book whereas I’ve bored my friends to tears demanding they locate a copy of Hundred Year old Man…

  6. I’m personally fond of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I wouldn’t say that I go to bed with his books. As a writer, I find myself breaking some if not most of the writing rules mentioned in the post, however. I am definitely interested in reading this book. (Gets up and moves toward library catalogue).

    1. Fitzgerald books are too sharp for sleeping with. Also, they nick the covers. I’m not a fan of the rules of writing – most of the authors who spout them come off as a little bit self-important, like there’s only one way to be a writer. Besides which, Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer follow the rules (mostly) and would anyone honestly call them better writers than Dickens who often goes off on ridiculous tangents about door nails vs coffin nails (A Christmas Carol). Then again, Dickens was paid by the word…

  7. I read this one during the summer. Bought it in Paris 🙂 I absolutely loved it! My fave comedic book of the year. So far, my mom got me to read it, I contaminated my dad, who is buying it for my uncle, while my sister purchased a copy for herself.

      1. Outbreak is a really bad movie from the 90s, don’t worry about it.

        I figure if people take the trouble to read and comment, the least I can do is respond

  8. I understand that this book was first rejected by major publishers. I can’t wait to read this book and see if I agree to reject it like the other major publishers. Maybe they were wrong. What do you think?

    1. Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel was rejected by ever publisher until eventually he got a $2000 advance, which he accepted. That level of advance was politely referred to as F-off money – an offer so insultingly low that the author takes umbrage and backs away, salvaging the ego of the one person at the publisher who likes it.

      That book? Was adapted into a film you may have heard of: Fight Club.

      And yet Pippa Middleton got a massive advance to write about about how to host a party (have nibbles, drinks, music, invite people. fin). Mind boggles.

  9. “Take me for example: I learned the meaning of the word ‘picaresque’.”
    I didn’t even have to read the book to learn the meaning of picaresque. I just googled it 😉
    Nice post. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

    1. Starting to feel the pressure of self-doubt as the cheerleader in chief of this particular tome… nah, it’s great, buy it. The publishers need the money

      1. But I already have SO many books that I havent read yet. you know I am one of those “bookoholics”… I adore buying books but dont have enough time to read them…and then I feel bad about how much money I have spent on them and not read them yet…
        but you are right, publishers need money. hehe. 😉

      2. Yeah I’m terrible when it comes to hoarding books and then taking 5 years to get round to actually reading the damn things…

  10. I never understood why so many people have problems with the IKEA instructions, I find them perfectly simple and easy to understand. Maybe that’s because I’m brought up on them…

    Congrats on being freshly pressed, and thanks for sharing yet some more Swedish produce to the world, on of these days we will have taken over the lot and everyone will be named Inga and Sven 🙂

    1. Every Swedish person I’ve ever known has told me that the Swedish are the most beautiful people in the world, fact. So if you guys take over the world, we’ll all have prettier kids. Then again the French conquered us centuries ago and our food is dreadful and we’re famously awkward lovers, so perhaps not.

      Not sure I can manage to post every day, but I’ll try and keep it regular

  11. Beware the clever title… it’ll almost certainly lead to clever endings, clever characters having clever conversations and even clevererererer reviews. Me? I’m not so clever that I would have found this book in the first place, but now I’ll no doubt find myself looking for it.

    1. I bought it on a whim – 2 for 1 deal. Don’t even remember the other book (I do: it was crap) If it wasn’t right in my face I wouldn’t have come across it, but I was glad that I did and wanted to share. To my 3 readers. This has all become a bit overwhelming.

      But please do find the book, I think you’ll enjoy it.

  12. First off, congrats on being FP, stranger! Rather tempting post, the truth be told.
    Now as regards the book in question, I already know I won’t find it here in Sao Paulo (that’s Brazil, South America) (I mean the continent) unless it becomes “in” and some snobbish-cum-avant-garde distributor/major store gets heads-up from a not less snobbish “connoisseur”. Will give a try, though.
    On the subject of how to write, or how not to, I am actually pulled in two directions. For one, just say no to restraints; but then again there are far too many tacky pinky cheap pieces around (the nerve! for I myself try to pass for an unpublished writer, and I am not even a native-born and educated speaker of the language)

    1. I know Sao Paulo – Robinho played for the team there (Sao Paulo) before Real Madrid, right?

      You could try downloading it as an ebook or onto your computer?

      I think it’s important to edit, and it’s probably a good idea to have other people proofread, but when it gets too prescriptive – no 2nd person, no description, plain English, it starts getting a bit annoying in my opinion – after all part of the fun of language is wallowing in it and playing with it

      1. Amen to that! As for me, I will keep playing with English and Spanish, for I love writing in both.
        BTW the Sao Paulo GPS reference was tongue-in-cheek 😉

  13. Well Dr Frood…. Yeah found you on ‘Freshly Pressed’ and I too study stats daily… Trying to get the world covered even if it is one from India, one from Italy etc. Being the late hour that it is I haven’t read all the comments above but I love your style… Shouldn’t say this but it’s not too dissimilar (spelt correctly? You have no spell-checker option here!) to mine, I don’t think. Does that mean I do or I don’t… think? Blame the hour dear Sir. Anyway the title of your blog caught my eye and the book does sounds intersting! I might go for a wander meshelf when I reach 100… probably need the exercise by then!!

    1. Sounds like a worthy challenge.

      As for my blog title, all I can say is that as a small child I found the Monty Python sketch in which people compete on a game show to explain Proust in 30 seconds inexplicably hilarious. I blame that Nice Mr Palin.

  14. The book sounds really interesting! I accidentally picked up Tolstoy’s War and Peace – and it is so tedious .. I need something light to read!
    Thank you for the recommendation!
    And, yeah congratulations on getting freshly pressed! 🙂

    1. Ah that Mr Tolstoy, what a joker… I used to tell people that many years ago Me and Leo’ were drinking buddies, but we fell out in difficult circumstances.

      A worrying number of people seemed to believe me, so I stopped.

      Thanks for your kind words

  15. Great style to your review, I am impressed! You have definately made me want to go out there and read the book, that’s for sure. Thanks.


  16. Great post and I quite agree – often what is not said is more important than what is said – take the end of the movie, the Apartment for example

    1. I like your list. American Gods is a good one, if only for the man’s imagination. Re-reading it at the moment as it happens (it’s long but doesn’t require a huge amount of effort).

      Richard Armitage in North and South may have replaced Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for period drama eye candy of choice…

      On Writing is surprisingly enjoyable too.

      1. Thanks. I think I’m most looking forward to American Gods. How I’ve not yet read it is a mystery. I’m not a huge fan of Pride and Prejudice, it’s fine, but I lean more towards Persuasion (and hate Emma).And while I like Colin Firth, I don’t appreciate him visually – not even the shirt scene. With Richard Armitage, I found his character’s self-righteous, yet conscientious outrage most appealing. In regards to eye candy (of the British sort), in any time period, Henry Cavill. Interesting, no?

        I suspect I will enjoy On Writing, I’ve made it a personal challenge to read all of Stephen King’s works. He’s the only author I’ll put up with shit writing from.

        If you’re curious on which opinions I don’t agree with you (and even if you aren’t), it’s your lack of faith in Colin Farrell. Sure, Daredevil and The New World were atrocious, but in In Bruges and Ondine (where he showed restraint), I found him quite good. If he continues to only excel in independent films, he could become the next poster boy for indie cool.

      2. Always boils down to a question of taste.. With Colin Farrell it’s clear he struggles to carry big tentpole actioners (nothing wrong with that) – either through the wrong skillset or it’s a question of pressure. Maybe he just has a bit of a tin ear for the material (Alexander, Total Recall…)

        I thought he was a bit cartoonish in In Bruges, but admittedly that’s probably (partly) because he was partnered up with Brendan Gleeson who’s phenomenal and who turned in one of his better performances in that film. Not seen Ondine.

        Daredevil. What. A. Film. My favourite thing about that film is.

        Absolutely nothing.

      3. And who won the Golden Globe (which actually probably says more about the Golden Globes than either actor)…?

        Also, I would like to point out that you haven’t posted anything in a longish while. I’ve had a fairly horrid start to the year and needed something funny to read – I just checked and nothing. Obviously this is your responsibility. No pressure. I’ve only read one thing that made me laugh this week (a sad fact) and it was only 11 words long.

        (Truly only joking)

      4. I have rather neglected the thing of late. My apologies, I shall do better…

        Sorry to hear 2013 has been worse for you than Mayan calendar manufacturers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s