The longest place name in the world with 85 letters is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturig pukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu. It’s a town on the north island of
New Zealand and means “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his flute to his loved one”. The longest place name in Europe is a Welsh town on the island of Anglesea called, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch with 58 letters, which means “Saint Mary’s church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave” (just imagine trying to get a taxi to there after a few drinks).
There’s no listing for the longest place name in Sweden, but owing to Swedish grammar they have some infinite words and the longest one is Spårvagnsaktiebolagsskensmutsskjutarefackföreningspersonalbeklädnadsmagasinsförrådsförvaltarens, which at 95 letters means “The manager of the depot for the supply of uniforms to the personnel of the track cleaner’s union of the tramway companies”. (I’d love to see the sign on his office door)
There are quite a few books with very long titles; the longest ever is a book by Nigel Tomms which has over 3999 characters and 370 words. A list compiled by members of the website www.goodreads.com a couple of years ago listed 491 wordy titles, but this months book wasn’t on it, due to being unpublished. It has 13 words in the title and is ‘The Hundred year Old man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’, by Jonas Jonasson.
The book tells the story of Allan Karlsson a centenarian who only minutes before attending a one hundred birthday party in his honour, decides on a whim to climb out the window of the nursing home where he resides and go for a walk. Thus starts a big adventure, in which, Allan steals a case full of drug money and befriends a gaggle of weird and wonderful human companions with whom he divides the 50 Million Swedish Kronor. There’s also an Elephant in tow. Allan’s disappearance sparks a nationwide man hunt lead by a lonely Police Inspector and members of the drug gang intent on reclaiming their loot. Soon the police are inundated with tips and misleading leads, not to mention the bodies of two of the drug gang. But innocent old Allan isn’t unused to being the centre of attention, because at regular intervals we revisit Allan’s early life, in which he seems to have been at every major political event and dined with every major political leader over the past century from Mao Se Tung to Stalin, Truman and Kim Jung Il . He also discovered how to create the Atom Bomb and gave nuclear secrets to the Russians quite by chance. All while in the company of Albert Einstein’s younger and slower brother, Herbert. But in the present day the rag tag group seem to just about remain one step a head of their pursuers, but for how much longer? And when they are caught what will happen to them?
This is Swedish journalist Jonas Jonasson’s first of two books which was published in 2009 but then translated into English in 2012 and has since been converted into another 29 languages. His second book was originally called the “The Analphabet who knew How to count”, but has recently been changed for the American market into “The Orphan who saved the king of Sweden”. Jeez, here we go again, dumbing things down for middle America. Couldn’t they just call it “The Illiterate Who Could Count”? Middle America is not that backward that they don’t know what the word “illiterate” means and anyone there who doesn’t know that, will not be found in a bookshop or a library. The hundred year old man has since been made into a movie, with subtitles, how long I wonder before there’s an US backed English language version? Time will tell.
This book is supposed to be rip roaring yarn, or a “… laugh out loud best seller…” according to The Telegraph, the Irish Times says it should carry a health warning for those irritated by helpless chortling. Wrong! It’s funny, but nowhere did it have me bent double with pains of laughter. It’s more a series highs and lows, at first the premise of an OAP climbing out of his nursing home window and wandering off is promising, the first half of the book Is humorous, and had me smiling and chuckling, but from midway its a chore to carry on, the story telling feels laboured and that Jonasson is trying too hard to make light of everything. The supposedly funny events are not memorable. Hence, it is nowhere near the likes of James Herriot’s and the recently deceased Sue Townsend’s books. Now those are funny books, especially Sue’s early work with Adrian Mole.
I found that Jonasson has tried to fit too much into one book, this book is 389 pages long! It’s a regular gripe at the book group, that there is little or no input by a half decent editor these days, using a big read biro or scissors. This is clearly in evidence here. Trying to run two very intricate stories side by side through a book like this never works and ends up distracting the reader, it’s like watching two siblings vie for your attention. The stories from Allan’s early life come across more as a set of sketches, which could have been their own book, with a bit more work, but Jonasson and his lazy editorial team have fallen down on the job badly.
As for the characters, there’s too many of them, even with their unusual names, such as the henchmen “Bucket” and “Bolt”, then there’s their Boss. Called The Boss, whose real name is Per Gunnar Gerdin, he’s referred to by both monikers in the book. Of the rag-tag bunch of friends Allan picks up, Sonya the elephant sticks out, then her surrogate owner “The Beauty” we do find out her name but I forget it now. There’s an immigrant hotdog seller who’s a ‘jack of all trades’, another uninspiring character whose name I forget and his estranged brother. Not to mention the police inspector, the prosecutor and that’s just in the current story, there’s loads more in the autobiographical story. As for Allan, he’s believable to a point, but he comes across as a Swedish version of Damien from the The Omen, as almost everyone who comers into contact him with meets their maker shortly after they part company.
As for the inclusion of the historical world leaders, it feels like a literary attempt at product placement. At first, it’s funny to have Allan having dinner with Trueman on the night Woodrow Wilson dies, and then Stalin, but by the time you get to Kim Jung IL and Churchill it’s parody gone mad.
I hate coming down on books and before I come across as being very clinical and overly judgmental about The Hundred Year Old Man, there is another reason why this didn’t work for me. Overall the book group was split on likes and dislikes, but one theory I expressed was that people have very different tastes in comedy. What central Europeans and Scandinavian’s find hilariously funny is not what us Celts may find funny. How many Europeans find the likes of Father Ted, Fawlty Towers and Allo Allo, hilarious? It’s the same thing with many of Europe’s home produced comedy programmes (Not that we see many) The crime fiction genre is a different kettle of fish and is proven by the success of the Millennium trilogy, by Stig Larsson, Jo Nesbo’s books and the TV series Borgen. So one has to ask, is the reason I feel this didn’t work also down to things being lost in translation? Comedy doesn’t translate across as easily as crime.
I discovered two things while researching this article, firstly that fifty million Kroner is actually worth very little outside Sweden, according to www.xe.com it’s almost five and a half million euro, seven and a half million dollars or four and a half million pounds sterling. That’s one of the few things that made me laugh, the thought that if they crossed a border or somehow got on a plane the case of money Allan was dividing equally among his cohorts would devalue rather rapidly.
Secondly is that an almost exact replica of this story has been published in Sweden in 2012 and since translated in to English, by the same translator. It’s “The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules” by Catharina Ingelman Sundberg. Basically, it’s about a 79 year old who plans to break out of her nursing home with a group of her fellow residents, to run riot, rob banks and get up to all sorts of mischief. It begs the question, don’t they do originality in Sweden? Is it just a fluke or did Ingelman’s publishers not read Jonasson’s book?
So, if you’re looking for an unchallenging moderately funny book to while a way a beach holiday, this may be your cup of tea but if it’s a commuter read that you’ll pick up in the morning and evening on your way to and from work this is to be avoided. The numerous characters and stories will have you wondering where the hell you are.