The Man in question is Allen Karlsson who, on his hundredth birthday decides he would rather not attend the party being thrown in his honour and so takes a rather novel escape route. Out of the window. Because Allen is no shuffling gent spending his days sitting around waiting to die. He still has all his faculties in tact and a lust for adventure. So having made his bid for freedom, he heads for the local bus station and madness ensues. Albeit at a rather leisurely pace due to Allen’s extreme age and the incompetence of the local criminal element.
Allen is no stranger to adventure, throughout the book we are treated to excerpts from his life and shown how he played a crucial role in some of the most important events of the 20th century.
One of Allen’s main characteristics is a profound disinterest in all things political and tends to stop listening whenever a conversation gets round to politics. This trait leads to him becoming acquainted with some of the most recognised names in world history (often from opposing sides) without any idea of their ideology and often without upsetting them.
Throughout the book the two stories – past and present – weave together, something I often find jarring as I’m whizzed back 50 years just when I was getting in to the present day story or vice versa. It’s not completely different in this case as we’re inevitably left on a bit of a cliff-hanger when the timezone changes but I enjoyed both of the aspects equally so I was never overly reluctant to leave one half of the story for the other.
In the present-day Allen encounters some of the most inept criminals possible and generally continues his life’s theme of befriending everyone he comes across, however much they might not want to be befriended. He’s an incredibly affable and laconic kind of chap who consistently manages to land on his feet and even when he doesn’t, he maintains a relentless confidence that “everything will work out” and it invariably does.
All in all it’s a very laid-back book, despite the dramatic happenings, Allen isn’t one to rush or over-dramatise and this is reflected in Jonasson’s narrative. It was an extremely relaxing read and very amusing. I’d seen several copies of The Man… in and around the tube but had no idea what it was actually about nor did I have much desire to find out. I generally avoid funny books and one with such a long and obscure title seemed to me to be bound to think it was funnier than it actually is but I’m glad to say I was wrong. And I think this has much to do that despite the unlikeliness of the scenarios involved, you can imagine Allen’s adventures actually happening. Jonasson doesn’t go out of his way to come up with over-the-top, wacky happenings that defy all belief. Instead he keeps things simple and somewhat more plausible. I loved every word of this book and I will certainly be on the look-out for more offerings from Jonasson in the future.