Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: Popular Fiction (page 1 of 2)

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time – Mark Haddon

In your standard murder mystery novel, a hard-boiled detective sorts clues from red herrings to track down the murderer of a young woman. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is different. It is a self-proclaimed mystery novel, with the requisite crime and investigation format, but the victim is a neighbourhood pet and the detective is 15-year-old Christopher, a young man who perceives the world differently.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Christopher is read (by most readers, anyway) as having Asperger Syndrome, or having some kind of autism spectrum disorder. As a character, he describes himself as being “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties”. Haddon, the author, insists that The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is “not specifically about any specific disorder” (which makes the choice to give Christopher so many traits commonly associated with Asperger’s and other developmental disorders very strange). I feel like it’s an “easy out” for Haddon to say that Christopher has “no specific disorder”, because – as he admits – he is neurotypical and has no expertise in this area.

“I have to say honestly that I did more research about the London Underground and the inside of Swindon Railway Station, where some of the novel takes place, than I did about Asperger syndrome. I gave [Christopher] kind of 9 or 10 rules that he would live his life by, and then I didn’t read any more about Asperger’s because I think there is no typical person who has Asperger syndrome, and they’re as large and diverse a group of people as any other group in society.”

Mark Haddon

He’s right, of course, in saying that people with Asperger’s – and other types of mental and neurological disorders – are a large, diverse group who cannot be adequately captured in or represented by a single fictional character. It’s good that he didn’t try. But I think his lack of expertise and experience explains why his characterisation sometimes felt so… flat. Christopher didn’t jump off the page to me, the way that other neurodiverse characters have (I’m thinking of Zelda in When We Were Vikings as an example). Christopher’s “no specific disorder” seemed to be the only remarkable characteristic he had, and it coloured every description or insight we may have had into his mind and his life.





But let’s leave that alone for now, and get back to the story. When Christopher discovers his neighbour’s dog dead in her backyard (yes, I cried, dog deaths slay me – RIP Wellington!), he takes it upon himself to find the culprit. He decides to write down (i.e., narrate) the details of his investigation in the form of a murder mystery novel, and that’s the frame for The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. Christopher continues his investigation, interrogating neighbours and collecting evidence, despite his father’s express instruction to stay out of other people’s business.

His home life, he slowly reveals to us, is a bit screwy. His mother is dead, and his father – Ed – probably isn’t going to win any trophies for parenting. Ed has been raising Christopher as a single parent for two years when the story begins, and yet Christopher seems to have more affinity (and respect) for Siobhan, his paraprofessional and mentor at school. She takes the time to explain behaviour and rules to Christopher in a way that makes sense to him, and he relies on her guidance to help him navigate the world.





Christopher solves the case in the end (of course), and uncovers a whole bunch of other mysteries and adventures along the way. That makes it sound a bit cutesy, but trust me, they’re sometimes dark and sometimes horrifying. I won’t give them all away, other than to say that most readers will find the story very moving. If I’m honest, the dog murder was the most upsetting bit for me (and you can keep any analysis of what that says about me to yourself, thanks!).

To circle back around to what I was saying earlier, Christopher’s character just didn’t quite pull me in the way it seems to have pulled in others. Perhaps I’m simply spoiled for having read other, brilliant representations of neurodiverse characters in the seventeen years since this one was first released. For me, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time was fairly good… but not great, and certainly not as great as I’d hoped.

See, I’m fairly lonely in my lukewarm reception of this one. Haddon won the 2003 Whitbread Book Of The Year award for it, the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, and a whole stack of others – it was even long-listed for the Booker! Its popularity endures, too. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time has been translated into over 35 languages, transformed into a stage adaptation, rights sold for a film adaptation (though no movement at that station yet), and named as one of the Guardian’s 100 best books of the 21st century. So, don’t let me put you off!

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time:

  • “This book is aggressively ok. I mean that as a compliment, honestly. Christopher is a really enjoyable character and I feel he tells his story with just the right amount of enthusiasm to keep you going. The militant atheism wears on you a bit, and I say that as a devout agnostic.” – The Professor
  • “Got as I gift but when the book arrived I kind of wanted to keep for myself.” – Amazon Customer
  • “Christophar was lit.” – daiyan ahmed
  • “What was the point? Just to tell a story of one’s life? Totally narcissistic in my opinion Not a fan Should have disclaimer” – Shelley

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

I love a good sleeper hit. You know those books that have been out for a while without a fuss, then they start gathering steam, and all of a sudden they’re everywhere you look? That’s what happened with A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Once upon a time, Backman was a quiet little Swedish blogger, and A Man Called Ove (or, in the original Swedish, En man som heter Ove) was his debut novel. It was published in 2012, translated into English in 2013, but didn’t reach the New York Times Bestseller List until eighteen months later. Once it got there, it stayed there for 42 weeks. And, here’s some more fun trivia: it’s an even bigger, even more-unexpectedly huge best seller in South Korea (not even his publisher quite understands why). Sometimes, miracles happen, eh?

This English language edition – which has sold over three million copies around the world, by the way – was translated by Henning Koch. Remember: always #NameTheTranslator!

It begins with an especially-curmudgeonly old-before-his-time 59-year-old man, called Ove (in case you missed it). He’s been having a rough trot. He’s still mourning the loss of his wife, and recently found himself forced into early retirement. Lacking any purpose or intention for the rest of his life, he plans to die by suicide. As fate would have it, on the day of his planned departure from this mortal coil, an exuberant young family moves in next door.

Ove has always lived by a set of pragmatic principles and strict routines. When the newcomers knock over his mailbox trying to back in their trailer, he just about blows a gasket. Parvaneh is a pregnant mother of two, and Patrick is her partner who really struggles with parking. Ove finds them bothersome and tiresome and just about every other -some adjective you can imagine a grumpy old man throwing at a couple of kids just trying to find their way in the world. When they mess up his plans to die, he stubbornly refuses to accept the divine intervention, and makes a new plan… until it happens again. And again.





Look, I know this doesn’t sound like the stuff of great comic novels. A lonely old guy trying to off himself? Complete with wacky neighbours and hijinks? Indeed, Backman had trouble finding a publisher at first. Based on his pitch, they said the book had “no commercial potential”, and that Ove was too unlikeable, too much of a Debbie Downer. Reader, they were very, very wrong. I was howling with laughter from page one. I was sending snaps of the funniest bits to my friends by page twelve. And then, about half way through, my eyes got a bit wet. And then it happened again, a little further on. By the end of A Man Called Ove, I’d used up half a box of tissues, and my cheeks, my chin, and my shirt front were all wet, too. Backman is uniquely skilled at the art of getting the reader to care more than they thought they would. He’s managed to make the old man’s cynicism and indignation endearing. Ove, stick-in-the-mud as he may be, feels disconnected and lost – who can’t relate to that? And he finds, in his new neighbours, new purpose (mostly to tell them how they’re doing it all wrong) – who can’t relate to that, too?

As Ove’s relationship with his new neighbours develops, so unfolds his backstory, one so heart-wrenching and wonderful and evocative that it sings in perfect harmony with the rest of the novel. I never once felt like I was being pulled back and forth in the timeline, or emotionally manipulated, because Backman knew just how hard to push, and when to back away. What I loved most of all was that it was brimming with my favourite type of whimsical, misanthropic humour, much along the lines of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared, my ultimate cheer-up read. A Man Called Ove is darker in its contents and themes, perhaps, but it’s definitely the same “vibe”.





There’s been a movie adaptation of A Man Called Ove (and also a stage production) – I watched the trailer on YouTube, but I don’t think I’ll be seeking it out to watch in full. I just can’t imagine how the comedy, so dark and perfect on the page, could translate to the screen. Backman has also since written several other novels, though (he’s now officially “Sweden’s most popular literary export since Stieg Larsson”), and I’m particularly interested to check out My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry.

I’d love to recommend this as a book club read, but I feel like there’s a very good chance every book club in the world has read it already – once again, I’m late to the party. A Man Called Ove is an enchanting tale of unlikely friendships, and it will pull on heartstrings you didn’t know you had. Plus, it’s a timeless reminder that you can almost never guess someone’s story just by looking at them – and I think we could all do with a few more of those.

My favourite Amazon reviews of A Man Called Ove:

  • “i was looking for an uplifting book and this was recommended. 10+ chapters of a man who dislikes everyone and wants to kill himself is definitely NOT an easy listening or feel good read. i might be only slightly encouraged by the realization that i am markedly happier and nicer than Ove.” – Appalasia Farm
  • “Sad, but uplifting” – Geoff Burdge
  • “Signed my wife up for an Audible account. But she hated it. Worst. Valentine’s Day. Ever.” – Argyle Shopper
  • “I could not wait for Ove to be Over.” – Marty


Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

Even when I’m working my way through a set reading list, I’m still, at my core, a mood reader. When I’m down, I want a book that’s going to cheer me up. When I’m on top of the world, I want a book that’s going to challenge me. And after Ulysses, I was in the mood for some F.U.N. I didn’t want anything literary or high-minded or complex – I wanted a page-turner, dammit, and I wanted it NOW! So, where to turn but to Liane Moriarty’s ubiquitous smash hit, Big Little Lies? I was worried that I was the last person left in the world who hadn’t read this book. Honestly, how I managed to avoid any spoilers is beyond me… (this review is going to be chock-full of them, by the way, so if it turns out I wasn’t in fact the last person ever to read it, you might want to look away now.)

I had some idea of what I was getting into: I read and reviewed Moriarty’s fifth novel, The Husband’s Secret, last year. Big Little Lies, published in 2014, was her follow-up. It looks like she knew she’d stumbled onto a winning formula (three women-centric stories woven together in a domestic-thriller-type set-up), and figured she’d stick with it. Good call, on her part!

So, let’s meet the ladies. We’ve got Jane, the single mother who moves to Sydney’s Northern Beaches with her son, Ziggy. She enrolls him at the local Pirriwee Public School (entirely fictional, for those of you playing overseas). There, she meets Madeline, who has a daughter Ziggy’s age, and Celeste, who has twin boys that age, too. The three of them strike up a friendship – more of an alliance, really, to protect themselves in the political battles with other factions of school mums.

Each of them, naturally, has their own set of problems. Jane is dealing with the aftermath of the sexual assault in which Ziggy was conceived. Madeline is hella jealous that her teenage daughter from a previous marriage is growing close to her ex-husband’s new hippie wife, Bonnie. Celeste’s relationship with her wealthy, charismatic husband, Perry, is abusive and toxic (to say the least). So, clearly, it’s massive trigger warnings all ’round, for all types of violence against women (even sex slavery gets a look in, via the passion project of Madeline’s teenage daughter). The point, it seems, is that men are garbage – but at least the women in Big Little Lies have more agency than any of the women in The Husband’s Secret. It’s a far more enjoyable read for that reason alone!





As the story unfolds, each chapter is punctuated with extracts from witness interviews with a journalist, just to keep the lure dangling and really exaggerate the characterisation. See, something went down at a school trivia night, someone is dead, and these little snippets are like banner ads from Moriarty every few pages: SUBURBIA IS A LIE! SOMEONE WAS MURDERED! DON’T YOU WANT TO KNOW WHO, AND HOW? KEEP READING! It’s not subtle. I must say, I heaved a sigh of relief when she revealed, about a hundred pages in, that it was a parent who died; I mean, that’s not great news, but at least we were spared any particularly-gruesome child murders.

After the three women have grown quite close, Jane reveals the details of the sexual assault that’s got her all messed up. She says the man’s name was Saxon Banks. That raises a red flag for Celeste and Madeline, because that’s the name of Perry’s cousin. Celeste actually knows him, from family barbecues and whatnot. They decide to keep that little nugget of information to themselves, though, right until the very end. Perry also busts Celeste setting up her own apartment, and figures out that she’s planning to leave him – if you know anything at all about domestic violence, you know that this is Bad News. His violence towards her escalates accordingly.

And let’s not forget all the kiddie drama that’s playing out at the same time! Ziggy is accused of bullying another child at Pirriwee, and the mothers tear one another apart like lionesses fighting over a warthog carcass. It takes a while, but eventually Jane and Celeste work out that it’s actually one of Celeste’s sons doing the bullying, apparently taking after his violent father.

It all comes to a head at the Pirriwee Public Trivia Night fundraiser. All the parents get together, get drunk, and the titular big little lies come unravelled. This is what all the witness statements have been hinting at throughout the book. Perry is revealed to be Jane’s rapist; he used his cousin’s name, the way he used to as a kid, to get out of trouble. When Celeste calls him out (“hello, excuse me, yes, you’re the absolute worst”), he backhands her. Unbeknownst to him, Bonnie – remember her? Madeline’s ex-husband’s new hippie wife – was the child of a violent relationship, and seeing Perry hit Celeste causes her to freak the fuck out. She ends up pushing Perry over the balcony, to his death.





Yes, it’s all a little neat, a little convenient, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. I much preferred the structure of Big Little Lies to The Husband’s Secret. The relationships between characters seemed much clearer (if you’re struggling to follow in this review, the fault is entirely mine!), as did the chronology of events. It was just a far better effort overall. Moriarty didn’t even have to resort to a saccharine explains-it-all epilogue. Big Little Lies didn’t have the most realistic ending, but it was certainly a satisfying one.

I was surprised at how dark it was, really, even though it managed to make me chuckle now and then. A New York Times book review said: “A seemingly fluffy book suddenly touches base with vicious reality”, which is spot on. There are laughs to be had, sure, but they’re ornaments on pretty heavy and disturbing subject matter. I hope everyone who picks this one up does so with eyes open…

The TV miniseries, produced by HBO in 2017 (starring Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley) won eight Emmy Awards. The second season, based on a follow-up novella by Moriarty, brought in Meryl Streep(!). I haven’t watched either of them yet, but I checked out the trailers on YouTube; it looks like they’ve moved the setting to the States (boo!), but that’s the nature of the beast, I guess.

At the end of the day, Big Little Lies isn’t a “literary” read, but it lived up to the hype as far as I’m concerned. It was just what I needed after the brain-draining monster that was Ulysses! Moriarty’s writing was compelling, perfectly page-turner-y, and reminded me of how much fun reading can be. I would sum up Big Little Lies as being The Slap meets House Husbands, with a female cast and a murder mystery at its heart.

P.S. In her acknowledgements, Moriarty says: “Now seems like a good time to make clear that the parents at the lovely school where my children currently attend are nothing like the parents at Pirriwee Public, and are disappointingly well behaved at school functions.” = LOL!

My favourite Amazon reviews of Big Little Lies:

  • “Maybe little long ?” – Antoinette Ritacco
  • “Too many lies!” – Sissel Kran
  • “Book club torture” – Muffy McGuffin
  • “By the end of the book I didn’t care who did what to whom” – Lynn R
  • SPOILERS shallow self-absorbed helicopter moms and their tedious offspring completely overshadow the underlying tale of infidelity and manslaughter. Schadenfreude and black comedy can be entertaining, but when paired with the serious themes of rape and domestic violence it felt tone deaf and distasteful.” – Weaslgrl


The Lake House – Kate Morton

Once again, I’ve reached a point where I’ve read too many dead white dudes back-to-back. I need to get back to lady business! It’s one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned in the course of the Keeping Up With The Penguins project: variety is really important to me in my reading life. If I read too many of the same kinds of books in a row, it makes me feel like a caged animal. So, this week, I turn to an Australian woman writer to break me out: Kate Morton, with her international best-seller The Lake House.

The Lake House is Morton’s sixth novel, published back in 2015 (The Clockmaker’s Daughter is her most recent offering, and it made a real splash at the end of last year). She is one of Australia’s biggest literary exports since Colleen McCullough, with international sales at ten million books and growing. Every single one of her titles has made the New York Times Best Seller List. She’s also, for some strange reason, really big in Canada. So, my expectations going into this one were pretty high.

Morton and I actually have quite a bit in common. She’s a fellow Queenslander-by-birth, and we both grew up loving Enid Blyton and dreaming about snowy England and adventures in moors and forests with the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. When she sat down to write The Lake House, she was based in Brisbane, but she decided to set the story in Cornwall as a kind of tourism-of-the-mind experiment.

Perhaps she got swept away with her life-long romanticisation of the English landscape, perhaps she’s just naturally wordy: either way, her writing in The Lake House was extremely descriptive right from the outset. In practically every sentence, she described a smell, a sight, a taste, or a sound. That doesn’t bother me at all – I’m more than happy to read a doorstop novel that describes every facet of a world (real or imaginary) – but I know it gets up some readers’ noses, so I thought I’d offer a warning straight-up.



What did bother me, though, was the bloody timeline(s)! There were three, for crying out loud! And all told from different perspectives! The 2003 timeline focuses on a detective called Sadie, the 1933 focuses on a young aspiring writer named Alice, and the 1914(ish) timeline focuses on Alice’s mother, Eleanor. And, if that’s not tricky enough, they all criss-cross and overlap, so you end up reading Alice’s 2003 story and Eleanor’s 1933 story as well. Oy! I understand why writers do this – they’re being very clever, drip-feeding the story to the reader, et cetera, et cetera – but having to triple-check the dates at the beginning of each chapter, and flip back-and-forth to piece together the chronology for myself, really takes me out of it. Hmph!

I’ll straighten out the timeline as best I can for the purposes of this review, but it ain’t easy. Also, spoilers abound, yadda yadda yadda – this book is recent enough to warrant at least a perfunctory warning.

Back in 1914, a young woman (Eleanor) fell in love with a bloke, married him, and popped out a few kids (one of them being Alice, the would-be writer). Hubby went away to war, came back a bit upset, but he seemed mostly okay. In 1933, when Alice was 16, they threw a “Midsummer Eve” party, but it all went to hell when their youngest child (Theo, an infant) disappeared while everyone was out having a good time. Yikes!



Alice, at the time, blamed herself for the disappearance. She was in love with the family’s gardener, and showed him a book she had written about how to kidnap a kid without getting caught. And, surprise surprise, the gardener goes missing at the same time as the kid. She never mentions any of this to the cops, though, and she spends her whole life trying to put it behind her by building a fabulously successful literary career.

The family home sits abandoned for decades, until 2003, when Sadie – a police detective on “enforced leave” for speaking to journos about a case she believed her department bungled – comes across it while out on a run. She does a little digging, and hears about the (still unsolved) case of the missing child. She starts asking questions, trying to figure out what the heck went down that night, and follows her nose through the whole mystery.

Yes, it’s a mystery novel, but one set outside the system of law enforcement. I appreciated that Sadie was, y’know, a lady, and not a gruff, cynical, end-of-his-career, whiskey-swilling male detective. That was the main basis of The Lake House‘s appeal, to be honest. Also, despite the sex-and-death stakes, this is actually a very “clean” read. All the dirty bits take place out of sight for the reader, so if that’s your preference in literature you’re onto a winner here.



Morton uses a third-person perspective the whole way through, but privileges each of the main characters in their own timeline, which really cleverly highlights the different perspectives each character has on the “truth” of the matter. It turns out Alice wasn’t the only one who blamed herself for Theo’s disappearance – both of her sisters also had reasons to believe they caused the kidnapping in some indirect way, and they all felt very differently about their mother’s behaviour (and Eleanor, of course, thinks of herself in much kinder terms than any of them). Morton weaves in various subplots and unspoken character motivations, which leads to her effectively braiding the three stories together (the story of a missing child, the story of an abandoned child, and the story of an adopted child). That’s in addition to the standard mystery-trope red herrings and big twists. So, I can concede that The Lake House wouldn’t have worked if Morton had tried to tell the story in any kind of chronological or linear style (but the jumpy timeline was still bloody annoying).

Morton has said that she long wanted to write a story about a child’s disappearance. Most readers would (reasonably) assume that she drew her inspiration from the disappearance of the Lindbergh baby (which also happened in 1933), but she has said she was actually thinking more of the case of the Beaumont children, who disappeared here in Australia in 1966. It’s clear that she had motherhood on her mind as she was writing; indeed, she was pregnant with her youngest child at the time, and it really comes across in the pages (and pages!) she devotes to the bond between mothers and infants. But that’s not to say that all of the mothers in The Lake House are Virgin Mary types, far from it! In fact, all of them are strong, but deeply flawed, and they spend a lot of time feeling sorry for themselves for various reasons.

The World Wars (both I and II) also play major roles in the narrative, and serve as turning points in the plot. When Alice’s father/Eleanor’s husband returned from WWI, he was actually far more “shell shocked” than he initially appeared, with attacks of grief and anxiety and anger that could turn violent. WWII, later in the story, kills one of Alice’s sisters, preventing her from revealing what she knows of Theo’s disappearance.



In fact, each of the sisters held one of the keys to the big mystery of Theo’s disappearance – if only they’d been capable of communicating like fucking grown-ups, the whole mess would have been sorted out long before Sadie came along. I’m going to give you a pared-down version of what happened (apologies to Morton). Deborah, the eldest sister, knew that her father was experiencing severe symptoms of shell shock that couldn’t be controlled and put all of the children at risk. Alice knew that the object of her affections, Ben Munro (the family gardener), was familiar with strategies for making a child disappear, had the means to make it happen, and coincidentally had a barren friend who desperately wanted a child. Clementine, the youngest sister, knew that Eleanor (their mother) was having an affair with Ben Munro The Gardener, and (once she grew up a bit) could have connected the dots and worked out that Theo was in fact Ben’s son, not their father’s. Yep, Eleanor was screwing the help, and it all ended in tears. If Clementine had lived long enough to tell Alice that part of the mystery, and Alice in turn had passed it on to Deborah, it all would have come to a head quite quickly.

Instead, it took an outsider with her own axe to grind sticking her nose in where it didn’t belong. Most of The Lake House is iterations of Sadie trying to get the remaining sisters to spill their secrets and sorting through the red herrings. Oh my goodness, so many red herrings! There isn’t a single character Morton didn’t want the reader to think did it, at one point or another. In the end, Sadie gets to the truth of it: Eleanor and Ben “kidnapped” Theo, to save him from the wrath of Eleanor’s shell-shocked husband, whom they feared would hurt the kid in one of his turns. And it turns out (drumroll please) that Sadie’s own grandfather is the long-lost Theo. There you have it. Everyone’s a winner!

(Oh, and Morton totally ripped off my “whydunnit” phrase, which you’ll recall I trademarked back when I reviewed In Cold Blood. Either that, or I’m not as brilliant and unique a creative mind as I thought…)

I wouldn’t say the mystery of The Lake House gripped me – I was more mildly curious about how it would turn out. I wouldn’t have cancelled plans to stay at home reading, but I wasn’t ever inclined to abandon it either. The ending was satisfying, and I didn’t guess the “truth” of it a hundred pages in (and thank goodness for that, or forcing myself through the remaining five hundred pages would have been a real slog). I did find the big reveal to be a bit of a set-up, though, as though Morton was just wallopping the reader with a very heavy-handed reminder that all mothers deeply, truly, no-matter-what love their children, and blood is thicker than water and all of that. Still, the ending is very neat, and it ties up all of the loose ends. As nice as it was to vacation in Lady Land for a while, I’ll happily confess that my favourite character was actually Edwina, the golden retriever. She was the one I connected with most of all. Make of that what you will.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Lake House:

  • “This is asking too much from me. This is not something I want to do. I think it is silly for everyone to do it.” – Jessie
  • “Wait to long! To much description. Interesting” – Patricia Paez
  • “A LONDON COP OF LEAVE GOES TO VISIT HER GRANDFATHER AND FINDS AN OLD ABANDONED HOUSE. THE TWISTS AND TURNS WILL THRILL YOU AND THE ENDING WILL ALSO, I’LL BET YOU CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT, I COULDN’T EVEN THOUGH I TRIED.” – SUSAN F
  • “I love to read but I chose not to finish it and waste my time.” – Patricia Sheyka
  • “Is she serious with this ending??? Total crap. Cornier than Cornwall itself.” – Karen
  • “Slower than crap. Worst book ever.” – Jessica A. Stice
  • “No literary quality as hoped. My first (and, last) Kate Morton book. Thin broth, indeed.” – David A. Oxford
  • “Silly little Soap Opera. Expected Amelia Earhart to come out of the bushes as a long lost Great Aunt there at the end. It’s a good thing daughters are ignorant of household secrets and they don’t talk to each after the man event for seventy or so years. ;-)” – richard briddick


The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

Before we begin this review, let’s all take a minute to appreciate how Jonas Jonasson has the best name for a writer! Love that alliteration! And now that the formalities are out of the way, we can take a look at his worldwide best-seller, The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared. I bought this copy at a funky little second-hand bookshop in Ballina over a year ago but I hadn’t opened it until now, and I’m glad I waited. I needed something funny and light after The Call Of The Wild (with less puppy torture!), and it sure did the trick!

The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared was first published in its native Swedish (Hundraåringen som Kiev ut genom fönstret och försvann, don’t ask me to say it) in 2009. It was the best-selling book in Sweden the following year, and by mid-way through 2012 it had sold over three million copies worldwide. This is the edition translated by Rod Bradbury, but it looks like there are a few different English versions floating around; in fact, it’s been translated into 35 languages, all told.

The story starts on 2 May 2005, with Allan Karlsson sitting in his retirement home, contemplating the impending celebration of his one-hundredth birthday. Frustrated by the prohibition policy of the home, he decides (bugger it!) he’ll jump out the window.

He walks in his slippers to the nearest bus station. There, he meets a hoodlum who’s bursting for the loo, but can’t squeeze himself into the cubicle with his giant suitcase in tow. The young man asks Allan to hold the case for a minute while he relieves himself, but the centenarian carpes the heck out of the diem! He jumps onto a bus, suitcase in tow, and leaves the hoodlum holding his dick and looking confused.



Turns out, that suitcase is stuffed full of drug money, and Allan ends up on the run from the dealers (who are desperate to recover their funds) as well as the police (who just want to return the befuddled old man to his home). Unbeknownst to his pursuers, Allan is sharp as a tack, and has a wealth of life experience in slipping through clutches to draw upon.

Every other chapter or so gives us a flashback to an increasingly fantastic episode from Allan’s long life. We learn that he unintentionally helped to make the atom bomb, became drinking buddies with Harry S Truman, saved the life of General Franco, had dinner with Stalin, got held in a concentration camp with Albert Einstein’s less-intelligent brother, foiled an assassination plot against Winston Churchill… yes, you have to suspend your disbelief a little for The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared, but if you can’t do that, how do you ever have any fun! (He never met Hitler, though – thank goodness! I’m so sick of that trope.)



Allan really likes vodka, which makes him instantly relatable for me, and the matter-of-fact way in which his story is told had me howling with laughter:

“Finer folks disapproved of [Allan’s father], dating back to the time he had stood on the square in Flen and advocated for the use of contraceptives. For this offense, he was fined ten crowns, and relieved of the need to worry about the topic any further since Allan’s mother out of pure shame decided to ban any further entry to her person.”

p. 26

Of course, because I am who I am as a person, I couldn’t help contemplating a more morbid reading of the story, where Allan’s incredible history is actually a delusion, the product of some form of age-related dementia. I seriously considered that it might be the “shock twist ending” for a minute, but (thankfully) there was nothing in the book itself about it at all, and nothing in the reviews I read online afterwards. So, it would seem I’m the only one who would have such a bummer of an idea. This is why I can’t have nice things…

The One-Hundred-Year Old man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is not only great fun, it’s also easy to pick up and put down as needed. That makes it great for holidays and other busy periods where your attention might be diverted. There’s a Swedish movie version (and another American adaptation planned soon, I think); I watched it hoping it would recreate the magic, but no such luck. The humour definitely works best on the page. The good news is that Jonasson has also written four subsequent novels, including a direct sequel for this gem: The Accidental Further Adventures Of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man.

Tl;dr? The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is a European Forrest Gump, but better! It’s a Recommended read here on Keeping Up With The Penguins, I’ve named it as one of the books guaranteed to make you literally LOL, and I’ll be reaching for it any time I need a light read with a lot of laughs.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared:

  • “It was alright but I wasn’t happy with all the murder and crime stuff it talked about.” – Jackie H
  • “If you have someone in your life dealing with a difficult geriatric, this might be salve To help with the pain.” – Robert K Anderson
  • “It was fun to read. The old man made every that I didn’t expect. Ha ha ha ha ha ha was all that I want to say” – Young
  • “This story was beyond silly and the writing infantile. I tried and tried again to get into it but finally after about 30 pages I tossed it in the trash. I could have better spent my time cleaning out the glove box in my car.” – mike lucas
  • “characters lacked character. Story was hard to connect to.” – PJ
  • “For anyone that thinks they are too old to accomplish anything. I so enjoyed this book, even the history of other countries.” – J Panther
  • “Bo-owing!” – Ann Olsen


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