I’ve not read anything by Jonasson before, although I am aware of the acclaim that The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window And Disappeared attracted. And it had appeared in Waterstone’s May Book recommendations so I had pretty high hopes. Social satire, I thought; comedy, I expected; characters, I looked forward to.
I’m not sure I got any of that.
And that disappointment wasn’t even the worst.
The novel follows Per Persson, the hapless and penniless grandson of a criminal multi-millionaire horse dealer, whose father’s a drunkard and whose mother’s almost invisible. He drifts into a job in a brothel and, when the brothel becomes a hotel, he drifts into a situation living and working as the receptionist there. The Receptionist is, in fact, the name by which he is most often referred by the narrator, even 150 pages after leaving the hotel.
The narrative style is very knowing and the tone of that voice comes across as rather arch and dry, which I did rather enjoy. At least, initially. It was different from the intimate narrative voices I usually read or the wide sweeping divine narrators. I did not, however, find it either warm in its humour, nor terribly funny. Which seems to be a major issue in a novel sold as comical.
It seemed, instead, just a little mean.
I don’t know. Maybe it was the fact that it was in translation.
Persson meets two more unlikely charachters: Johanna Kjellander, a priest who does not belief in God and has just been evicted from her Church; Hitman Anders himself, recently released from prison following two murders and unwilling to return to the criminal justice system so avoiding committing any more murders. But quite happily handing out beatings and broken limbs for various criminals. Obviously the police in Sweden only deal in murder. Well, with the wealth of Nordic Noir novels, there seem to be a lot of murders to deal with!
In any event, Persson and Kjellander end up managing Hitman Anders’ contracts in exchange for a healthy slice of the profits., boosted by a somewhat hysterical media interest in the Hitman, the most dangerous man in Sweden.
And this is only the first of three unlikely business enterprises that they develop to exploit the intellectually challenged Hitman who finds God, becomes a Pastor of a church and a patron of the needy. Public opinion swings from hysterical terror to adulation.
Fraud, deception, drunkenness and assassinations follow. Tax evasions, heaven forfend. Dead bodies are left in their wake.
And, in all of this, not once did I really like either Persson ot Kjellander or the Hitman. Nor was there any real pace to the story which wandered around. And I found the incessant anti-Church commentary from Kjellander and the mockery of the church in the book uncomfortable. As a reader, it was just a little tedious and, although I am not a church-goer, I didn’t think that the Communion becoming merely a winefest and the mockery of the congregation and the clergy and the administration was actually done in very good taste. Especially bearing in mind the final chapter.
Which brings us to the concluding chapter. Which didn’t. Conclude, that is. It didn’t conclude. I was listening to it as an audiobook and it literally just stopped. With no real sense of ending, it just stopped. I’m a fairly avid reader. I’m an English teacher. I am a writer. I know how to signpost an ending; I know about narrative structures; I can feel narrative arcs. And I did not know this book was ending. I cannot recall any other book that I have read where the ending was so blunt. I literally had to check to see that I’d not skipped over a couple of chapters.
I must say that, on the strength of this, I am not tempted to try to dig out a copy of The Hundred Year Old Man!