The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

16001863This wonderful novel, which pays homage to the genre of the absurd, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared is a terrific romp through time and place, featuring the most unflappable protagonist I’ve yet encountered.

The story starts on the 100th birthday of the irrepressible Allan Karlsson. Trapped in a nursing home, destined to live out his remaining years, gazing out a window, tolerating the orders of the head nurse, denying his spirit of adventure and desire for a tipple, Allan turns his back on celebrations designed in his honour and, as the title suggests, climbs out the window of his room and, as far as the authorities can make out, vanishes.

Only, Allan hasn’t disappeared. Instead, unwittingly, he embarks on an amazing journey where he encounters people both good and dangerous, an elephant, a suitcase full of cash, bamboozled police and an attorney with poor judgement. Accused of being a murderer, kidnapper, thief and other terrible crimes, Allan is a wanted man. Remaining blissfully unaware as he travels across country, collecting people as one might stamps and finding hospitality where others might expect hostility, Allan relishes his adventures. Along the way, the readers learn about this incredible man’s past, a past that makes his improbable present so exceedingly ordinary. This is because Allan has not only met many of the movers and shakers of Twentieth Century history, but played a pivotal role in most of the major events – grand and catastrophic.

Laugh out loud at times and deeply poignant in others, this is a great read that demands you suspend your disbelief, buckle your seatbelt and go along for what is a wild and gratifying ride.

Engagingly written, it’s hard to put down and leaves you with a warm and very contented feeling that makes ageing seem like a hell of a lot more fun that it’s often cracked up to be; certainly more exciting than remaining in a nursing home counting the days.

 

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Book Review: The Emperor’s Tomb by Steve Berry

 

There’s no doubt that when Steve Berry decides to write a book set in a different country to his native one, he researches every last fact he can – from its people, politics, climate and geography, to its history. The Emperor’s Tomb is no different in that regard – the tomb referred to being the one containing the terracotta warriors associated with one of the ancient Chinese dynasties and, as it turns out, so much more as well.

The Emperor's Tomb (Cotton Malone, #6)The story features Cotton Malone, former naval pilot and lawyer and member of the mysterious Magellan Billet who, two years earlier, retired to run a second bookstore in Copenhagen. Only, we rarely if ever get to see Malone in the store let alone reading as he’s always called upon to intervene in a global crisis – including in this novel.

When he’s sent a mysterious note with a web address and logs on to find his friend, the marvellously named and very beautiful Cassiopeia Vitt being tortured, he embarks on a whirlwind adventure that will take him to China and immerse him in a conspiracy that involves the Chinese government, the Russians and, of course, the United States as well. That his life is constantly at risk goes without question, but so is that of others, including a four year old boy.

On the brink of a new era, the current Chinese government is due for a change of leadership and there are two men currently vying for the role: one is a ruthless Legalist who will stop at nothing, destroying whatever and whoever stands in his way to achieve power. The other follows a different ideology and eschews violence as a solution unless it’s absolutely necessary, only he lacks the knowledge and support to be a serious contender.

With the Russians, Americans and the powerful Ba sect, a group of eunuchs who seem omniscient, pulling the strings and operating behind the scenes, saying one thing, promising and doing another, violence seems to be the only recourse for everyone. Enter Cotton Malone – not afraid to be the knight errant or even enter communist countries illegally if it means he will save the world. And, of course, violence is his middle name.

But Malone hadn’t counted on Chinese ingenuity, their ability to twist the truth or the past; nor can he rely on those he once believed could be trusted. And so the stage is set for a showdown of epic proportions, one that can change the balance not only in China, but the world.

For all that I can appreciate the research Berry does, and the travel he engages with and his passion to include a great deal of what he learns in his stories to give them authenticity, I feel this novel overdoes it. The plot was quite convoluted and the characters very two-dimensional, stereotypical and predictable. Further, the level of didacticism in this book took away from the story and slowed the pace to a crawl at some points. There were even repetitive bits – for example, on how one is made a eunuch. It was wince-worthy enough the first time (as well as interesting) but reading the details twice smacked of error and poor editing and diluted the effect. Likewise, a number of interesting facts about China were also repeated, rendering them redundant the second time around.

While the biotic and abiotic oil issue was fascinating, again, the plot had so many levels and unnecessary twists and turns, it became more like a labyrinth and I needed Ariadne’s thread to find my way out again.

Overall, however, it was a quick read – a bit of adventure brain candy and, hey, it featured Cotton Malone, a literary chick’s version of the stuff. So, in many ways, it served its purpose but I don’t think it’s as good as some of Berry’s other books.

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