Wednesday Cover Story: When the cover is better than the book…
About a month ago I bought the book The One-Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson purely on the basis that the cover jumped out at me (as did the title). I didn’t even read the back cover blurb (honestly I didn’t) but merely the 1st chapter which is only one paragraph long and describes what you already know from the cover: that 100-year-old Allan Karlsson suddenly decides, as he’s waiting for his birthday celebrations to kick-off at his retirement home, to climb out of the window and leave.
I love this cover. I love its simplicity, how they’ve used the window frame and fitted the text within it. And I love the image of the old man which must have been specially commissioned. It all works beautifully. So much so, that I bought it on a whim, akin to the whim of the old man who decided to climb out the window. A case of “Well, why the hell not?”
Sadly though, the book has fallen short of my expectations. A few weeks ago, our former Managing Editor, Lara, wrote me a blog reviewing the book which I chose not to read at the time as I was planning to start the novel myself and didn’t want any spoilers. But as I’m about to finish the novel…and losing a bit of interest in it, decided to see what Lara thought.
This sounded like a perfect holiday read, in a Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand kind of vein. I downloaded the sampler on my Kindle and was immediately hooked with the opening page. And when I read the blurb and was promised a lively political background (I love light reading with a bit of education thrown in, so I don’t feel too mindless) I knew this was the book for me. Sadly, I’m not sure it delivered. It’s a clever idea but I’m not sure if the humour carried through as successfully as it might have done in the Swedish original. Of course, it’s meant to be over-the-top ridiculous (there is a runaway pet elephant, but that’s the only spoiler I’m giving away), but for me it was just too much and the author felt like he was trying too hard to be funny. Again, this may be the translation, or indeed a combination of both, but given the hype I expected more. It was a fair read but I don’t think it’s in my top 100. In fact, I agree wholeheartedly with the author’s own description of it being ‘an intelligent, very stupid book’. Lovely cover artwork though!
And I must agree with her about the content as she agrees with me about the cover! It is , in my opinion, a delightfully quirky book, but it loses steam. It’s like a Swedish Forrest Gump ( “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get” is replaced with “Things are what they are. And whatever will be will be” ), only the plot is a bit darker (less shrimp-boating, ping-pong playing and investing in Apple and more killing of criminals, making of Atom bombs and surviving in a Gulag). But the humour starts to feel belaboured and the story just didn’t sustain my interest throughout.
However, it has been an international bestseller, and equally successful here in the UK. But am now wondering if, like me, many were simply taken in by the wonderful cover…?
Chiara Priorelli, Publicity & Online Marketing Manager