Sure as shootin’, this book is not for everyone. In all honesty, there were times while I was reading that I was even unsure if it was my cup of tea. Nevertheless, if one likes humorous tales, takes an interest in history, and possesses a willingness to have credulity strained beyond all bounds, then The 100-Year-Old Man may be just the ticket. Let’s face it; the title is a huge clue regarding believability. Not only is the storyline a wachy stretch of the imagination, but the characters are so peculiar as to be cartoonish.
I don’t know many centenarians, but the ones I have met would be hard put to lift their legs higher than a few inches, much less climb out a window. And if one did somehow manage to make the great escape, would s/he really steal someone’s suitcase before boarding a bus with no destination in mind? Nevertheless, let’s suppose this is possible. How long would it really take for the police or the crook whose dough s/he lifted to catch up…a few hours? Allan Karlsson manages to remain at large way longer, mainly thanks to Police Chief Aronson, whose ineptitude rivals that of the Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau. Additionally, the criminals hot on his trail are dumber than the Three Stooges. Along with this storyline of hot pursuit, the reader is treated to flashbacks of Allan’s life before he landed in the old folks’ home – flashbacks which involve a fun rewrite of the behind-the-scenes story of major 20th-century political events. Here the fantasies become even more fantastical – with Allan hopscotching across the globe and playing a key role in everything from the Spanish Revolution to U.S. – Soviet disarmament. Many of these rewrites were very entertaining, but I must admit to feeling a slight annoyance as Allan stumbled from one implausible catastrophe to the next. However, this was mostly at the beginning of the book, and once I got in the spirit of his zany antics, I became truly engrossed.
Then, there are the characters. Here again, one’s tolerance level for the farfetched determines one’s enjoyment of this book. For me, it was a mixed bag…of nuts. Sometimes, I was okay with it, sometimes not. For instance, Allan’s character is frequently infuriating. I kept asking myself, “Does the boy have Asperger’s Syndrome?” He cares about nothing. He doesn’t get angry; he doesn’t get scared; he doesn’t love anyone or anything; and for all the political events in which he is involved, none of them touches him in any way. Actually, the only thing that really does get his dander up is alcohol deprivation, but who can blame him. In addition, his aimless meandering from one dangerous political situation to the next is a tad perplexing.
Along the way, our on-the-run centenarian picks up a host of borderline lunatic helpers. There’s Julius, the petty thief; Benny the hotdog vendor who has a more diverse education than 100 professors combined, and Gunilla the farm lady who is harboring a runaway elephant. Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Allan seems to put them under his trance and convince them join him on the lam.
I know it may not sound like it, but even with its incredulous plot and improbable characters, I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Still, as I said, it took a bit of attitude adjustment for me. Once I was able to simply lean into the kookiness and accept it for what it was, I was hooked. Again, this book is not for everyone, so I would have to say…reader beware.