I’ve just finished reading The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. What an amazing book this is – one which makes you reflect on the nature of life, the irony of events and choices, the workings of chance, and the value of opportunism. As I read it I felt sure it would make a fantastic movie.
Opinions of novels are always diverse but for me this story works as a long rumination on the workings of fate and chance in human affairs, centred around the life story of one man who is a master opportunist – a story which encompasses all the major political events of the 20th century, interspersed with the picaresque tale of his adventures after escaping from his 100th birthday party at the Old People’s Home in 2005.
The simplicity of the telling, bare of any kind of moral subtext, draws you on.
Throughout his life the main protagonist Allan has lived on his wits – amongst many ironies, he finds himself being bankrolled by one of the 20th century’s greatest tyrants, Mao Tse Tung, and accepts it without conscience. His actions are guided not by moral or religious principle but by expediency and opportunism.
Yet in the tradition of all great picaresque heroes (Tom Jones, and the main protagonist of “Slumdog Millionaire” come to mind) we like him and we are gunning for him.
At the age of 100, Allan breaks out from his imposed daily routine and encounters unexpected things. He responds to them and moves forward, dealing with new events as they arise – not fleeing back to his safe routine. He lives on his wits and he doesn’t let moral principles hamper him – like ‘being good’ or ‘doing the proper thing’ or worrying about what others might think of him, or who would approve, or if he might get in trouble, or what might be the consequences.
Surely there is a lesson for us here, without feeling we have to use the amoral Allan as a role-model: “Just break out – move forward into the unknown – meet new and unexpected events – deal with them – make decisions – and keep going.”
In other words, I say to myself: perhaps in this life it is no bad thing to become more of an opportunist!