If this book was food, it would be a raspberry jelly doughnut. It’s pure sugar, pure fun, with only a trace of real fruit.
With that said, it’s certainly a delicious raspberry jelly doughnut! The story centers around Allan Karlsson, a centenarian, who on the morning of his 100th birthday party, decides he would rather be anywhere than in the old folks’ home to which he has been confined for the last few months.
Allan decides to flee to wherever a 50 crown bus trip can take him, but at the station, he agrees to watch a young punk’s suitcase while the kid, as he delicately describes, “takes a dump.” While the punky kid is relieving himself, the bus arrives and Allan — for reasons he doesn’t even fully understand — boards the bus with the suitcase.
This unleashes a massive manhunt for the 100-year-old man and the suitcase itself. The present-day chapters are punctuated with flashbacks of Allan’s storied 100 years. It turns out that our centenarian is somewhat of a picaresque hero with a life that reads like a mashup of Forrest Gump and How to Win Friends and Influence People mixed together with a stick of dynamite.
Allan has chugged vodka with the likes of Joseph Stalin and Harry Truman. He has conquered the Himalayas and saved Winston Churchill from an assassination attempt.
At first, I was a little disoriented by the reference to famous historical figures because the first one doesn’t appear until about a 1/5 of the way into the book. However, by the time the second or third world leader showed up, I had accepted their presence as intentionally silly and implausible. They no longer bothered me; in fact, I waited in anticipation to find out who Allan would meet next.
The best thing about the novel is the very dry, very dark sense of humor. Take this bit of dialogue between Allan and one of his companions for example:
— The bad news is that when we were well and truly pissed last night, we forgot to turn off the fan in the freezer room.
— And? Said Allan
— And…the guy inside must be dead cold — or cold dead — by now.
With a worried look, Allan scratched his neck while he decided to let news of this carelessness spoil the day.
— Oh dear, he said. But I must say that you’ve got these eggs just right, not too hard and not too runny.
I might be a terrible person, but to me, this is hilarious.
The rest of the book is satirical in its treatment of politics and of people who take themselves too seriously. Let’s face it: too many people take themselves too seriously, and it would be nice to squish a raspberry jelly-filled doughnut in their faces. With the utmost propriety, of course.
This is that jelly-filled doughnut.
PS – When researching for this review, I found out that it is a movie. For what it’s worth, the movie looks terrible. Read the book.