APRIL READING: The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson


So you wake up one day, on your 100th birthday no less, no family, all your friends passed on, stuck in some horrible and dull room in some horrible and dull nursing home with staff to match, waiting for some awful party to begin. Allan Karlsson, being rather sprightly for his age, as he has done so many times during his long life, makes a command decision, simply jumps out the window in his brown jacket, brown trousers and brown slippers, and runs away. Well, walks away as fast as his 100 year old legs can carry him.

What follows is just yet another adventure in the really quite incredible life of this Everyman for the twentieth century with a genius for bomb making and love of vodka. In fact vodka drives many of the decisions he has made in his extraordinary life, even now at 100!

What happens to him and how he lives out his remaining days is told alternately with how he has lived the previous 100 years. In a life even more ridiculous than Forrest Gump's, and way more interesting than William Boyd's Logan Mountstuart, Allan meets more leaders from the last century than you can poke a dead stick at. In no particular order Stalin, Kennedy, Franco, Truman, Johnson, Mao Tse Tung and his wife, de Gaulle, Brezhnev and others. As you would expect his travels take him all over the place too - Sweden, USA, USSR, Indonesia, Korea, France, China, Spain...   How does all this happen - well, you will just have to read this book and find out. Gives new meaning to the song 'I've Been Everywhere Man'.

Even though his past life is completely nuts, his present life, ie what happens after he disappears from the rest home, is just as ridiculous. It is really quite marvellous how he manages to stay only a step or two from those searching for him, and if we could all live such a life at 100, what a great world it would be!  The author must have had such enormous fun putting this story together and you have to wonder just where all this comes from!

This book is totally and completely and utterly mad, enormously entertaining, with a 20th century history lesson thrown in for good measure. If you want to find inspiration in how to live the rest of your life, you could get an idea or two from this insane account. If nothing else you will get a jolly good laugh, and that is no bad thing either, whether you are 100 or not. Keep up those yoga and pilates sessions so you too will have the strength to climb out that rest home window.


LOTTERY by Patricia Wood

"My name is Perry L. Crandall and I am not retarded." A very straight forward opening line from a very straight forward 32 year old man. To be labelled officially retarded, apparently you have to have an IQ of 75. Lucky Perry has an IQ of 76. Although he may not be retarded, he is cognitively challenged or slow.  He knows it, but as he is not officially retarded, no way is he going to let this minor issue stop him getting on with his life. Of course the vast majority of people that Perry has dealt with all his life are not aware of this one point difference, and basically classify and treat him as 'retarded'.

Essentially abandoned by his immediate family, he has been raised very lovingly and most wisely by his grandparents who taught him everything he needs to know. This boils down to:  a very small list of people he can trust, spend half his pay and save half his pay, when in doubt of what to say become an auditor ie a listener, and the meaning of the word 'careful'. One of things he and his Gram did every week was buy a state lottery ticket. One day, not long after Gram's death, when life is turning into a bit of a struggle for Perry, he finds an old ticket, checks the numbers in his most meticulous way, and discovers he has won $12.0m. American dollars that is.

From that moment on, he has to call upon every single one of those lessons, sayings, and instructions for living that his grandparents gave him so as to manage the vultures that come circling - his brothers, their wives, his mother; the old school friends who were so mean and nasty to him as a child; the media; the financial advisors - everyone wants a a piece of him and his pie, especially his vile family.

It falls to Keith and Gary to help Perry steer through this quagmire, the pitfalls and the successes that come out of this win. At all times Perry keeps his head, trusting his instincts and constantly listening to his Gram's voice.

Much like the movie Forrest Gump, the story is narrated by Perry. We see the world, the people in it, their relationships with each other and with him through his very simplistic eyes. We know his family are a bunch of useless greedy ne'er do wells, and we ache for Perry to see it, which in his own slow way he does, just not as sharply and as quickly as we do. He sees his best friend and the girl of his dreams fall in love, but doesn't fully understand the intricacies of adult man/woman relationships. Yet they continue to love him, which makes everything all right. Because the reader knows what is going on this form of narration works very well. Although some may be offended at how Perry is portrayed - not retarded, but definitely slow.

Nevertheless this is a truly heartwarming, inspiring  and easy read, perfect for a lie in the sun, or curling up in a front of a fire. Apparently the author's father won millions in the state lottery one year, so I imagine that has provided plenty of material for this story. We all wonder what we would do with such a win, it would be nice to think that we have friends such as Keith and Gary, and the wisdom to use the money wisely and well.



Us antipodeans are renowned for our OE - overseas experience, which generally takes us back to the land of our forebears - Britain and the rest of Europe - before returning to Australia or New Zealand to begin the rest of our lives. Not so Lucy Neville! Latin America had spun its magic on young Lucy since childhood, so armed with a degree in politics, international relations, and of course Spanish she takes the big plunge, decides to go to Mexico to teach English and to come back speaking/reading/writing the language like a native. Fantastic to do this sort of stuff when you are young - full of energy, optimistic, fatalistic, adventurous - because going to a place like Mexico City, population 9 million, gringo kidnappings, street theft, drug cartel murders, air pollution, traffic congestion, extremes of rich and poor etc, may well not be for the faint-hearted. But our Lucy fearlessly goes where she hasn't been before, has the time of her life and also does a fair amount of growing up.  Which she has very graciously and brilliantly shared with the reader. 

As with any move to a new, strange and foreign place it does take some time, after the initial excitement has worn off, to settle in and feel like this place could be home. To her surprise and distress, Lucy has way more problems with the language than she expected, which results in her going to language classes herself. She manages to find work teaching English although the language school she hitches herself to seems to have some trouble walking the line between in the red or in the black, resulting in Lucy taking on the private students. Along the way she meets a most interesting and diverse range of locals including the First Wives' Breakfast Club, the wealthy, very cosmopolitan Ofelia, fellow teacher Edgar who wants to improve his English, her delicious sounding flat mate Octavio, and his love rival Ricardo.

During her time in Mexico City Lucy does all she can to immerse herself in the life of the city, going out of her way to limit her contact with native English speakers. Its political life, the issues facing the working person, its organised corruption, its TV soap operas, its food, its festivals - Catholic and pagan: all of these get under her skin and draw her into the soul of the city and its inhabitants.  By the end of her two years there she has attained her goal of thinking in and speaking Spanish, to such an extent that it was only when an American spoke English to her and she had to consciously process what he said  that she realised how far she had come.

This is a great read, compulsory I would suggest for anyone contemplating a visit to South or Central America and just a little worried about all the bad stuff. Lucy is an excellent story teller, self deprecating, funny, humble, a traveller with eyes and heart wide open. The perfect travel companion.



Impossible to review as there are literally thousands of reviews available at the push of a button of this absolute classic of English literature. The hardest part about putting this review together? Scrolling through hundreds of book cover images finding the one, for me,  that encapsulated everything about this book. So we have impeccable dressing and manners, order and simplicity, elegance and refinement, beautifully weaved layers, and above all love.

In January it was 200 years since 'Pride and Prejudice' was first published. 200 years! Can you believe the timelessness of this story. So it was fitting that I finally read it. Only a few years ago I thought it was about time I read a Jane Austen, so on the advice of a Jane Austen fanatic I read 'Emma'.  Not a good choice. Emma annoyed me intensely, the two movie versions I have seen did nothing to change my opinion and although I finished the book, I did feel the whole exercise was a bit of waste of time. I wasn't going to take up my friend's suggestion of 'Northanger Abbey'. Why she didn't suggest P&P I'll never know. Because it is head and shoulders above 'Emma', as are the movie/TV versions.

We know what is going to happen of course, but it doesn't matter as the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy is so delicately and skilfully developed, the reader feels the tension between the them, sees the gradual awakening and realisation as they slowly get to know each other. It is so brilliant, that I found once they had arrived at the true state of affairs, I sort of lost interest in their relationship. I had got to know them so well as separate individuals I wasn't really very interested in reading about them as a loved-up couple!

Then of course there are the periphery characters - so overdrawn really as to be ridiculous. The appalling obsequious Mr Collins, over wrought Mrs Bennet, that silly Lydia, head in the sand Mr Bennet, terrifying Lady Catherine, unlovable rogue Wickham, amongst others.

So brilliant plot, great characters and to top it off wonderful writing. You might think the written English of 200 years ago could be hard going. It is certainly different from how we write today, but I can't really imagine this book being written in modern English. Its charm and magic is as much in the language used as in the other components. We only need to see Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in full Regency articulation to appreciate the beauty and appropriateness of Miss Austen's language.

Most highly recommended for anyone looking to get lost in another time with a story as appropriate for today as it was 200 years ago.