We meet Allan Karlson on the morning of his 100th birthday, sitting alone in his room at the nursing home within which he resides in the Swedish town of Malmkoping. A party is being planned to celebrate his reaching a triple digit age, with local dignitaries and press coming along. Allan, however, doesn’t want to attend.
So, being a man of fairly fine fettle considering his advancing years, he decides to make a break for it, climbing, as the title of the story informs us, out of the window and disappearing.
And so begins a remarkable, funny and frequently absurd adventure.
Author Jonas Jonasson moves the story on with a feverish pace and with the lightness of touch that perfectly matches the ‘Que Sera’ mentality of the protagonist. Weaving between Allan’s shuffling, farce-laden road trip as he encounters all manner of eccentric and shady characters we are also taken on a journey back through Karlson’s long, and astonishingly eventful life.
With more than an hint of similarity to Forrest Gump we find that Karlson, a man of simple means and desires, has played a significant role in shaping many of the major events of the twentieth century. A man who remained vociferously neutral on all matters of politics and religion we find Karlson inadvertently mixing with the great and the decidedly not so great at some of their more pivotal moments. From Franco to Chairman Mao, Stalin to Nixon, Karlson manages to meander his way through history with a weary sigh and a constant craving for good vodka.
While the parallel to Gump is clear, where the story differs is in its telling; Jonasson always managing to steer well clear of anything resembling sentimentality, drawing the reader at all times towards the absurd and comic with some glorious set-pieces, a motley crew of characters that wouldn’t be out of place among the pages of a Douglas Adams novel.
If you thought Swedish fiction was all about grisly murder, long dark neurotic nights and troubled cops, then this delightful romp through modern history will redress the balance.