Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
This jolly little caper was recommended to me based on my favorable review of “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”. While I did enjoy that lovely book very much, this selection resembles it only in the premise of an impromptu journey by a geriatric gentleman. This story could be the result of Carl Hiaasen blending Harold Fry with Forrest Gump and adding his own patented lunacy to the mix. There are two storylines at work: the current day journey of Allan Karlssen and the entourage he accumulates while trying to evade a biker gang and the police, and the historical journey of his very eventful Gump-like life that collides with every major global event from 1920 to the fall of the Soviet Union.
I found the current day story line the more entertaining of the two. Readers of Hiaasen’s books will enjoy the very dry, dark humor and root for the inevitable come-uppance dealt by karma as our merry band of fugitives dodge every peril, encouraged by Allan’s optimistic belief that “it is what it is, and what will be will be.” The historical sections were very Gumpish (as noted by many other reviewers), but better because through Allan’s stubbornly apolitical viewpoint, no country or political party escapes a dark satirical skewering. My only complaint was how revisiting history slowed down the more entertaining escape story. Still, it is only a small complaint, because there comes a scene near the end when all those previous historical encounters are bundled together to great hilarity at one person’s expense.
For those who enjoyed Harold Fry for the sweet, gentle tone and ultimately life redeeming message, you may not respond well to the darkness in this story if you are hoping for a repeat. Hiaasen’s fans will have to adjust to a very British reader and a more dry delivery than that author employs. But if those adjustments can be made, if you can just hop on board and take the journey with Allan, then you may be very pleased with “what it is, and what will be.”
The back end of a hurricane is called the dirty side of the storm, often bringing some of the worst weather and tornados. In Carl Hiaason's Florida, the dirty side of the storm is filled with crooked opportunists looking to make a killing, do a killing, or just cynically take videos of personal misery to show to the folks back home. Fortunately this crazy landscape has some good guys too - although they may not be easy to recognize at first, disguised as they are by their quirkey lives.
This is not a story for everyone. The humor is startling, even raunchy - if you get it, you'll find yourself letting out sudden bursts of laughter at absurd moments, thinking one second later OMG that's not funny - and yet it is. Hiaason finds some of the most outrageous ways for the bad guys to get their come-uppance. Karma really is a b**ch.
This doesn't sparkle quite as brightly as Skinny Dip, largely because there were too many characters to keep track of (and to be disposed of), so its pace was a bit slower. The main story threads are terrific and very Hiaason. If he had left out at least a couple of the lesser threads it would have been better. Fairly small complaint. I still enjoyed my journey through this crazy storm-ruined Wonderland. Just what I was looking for as a light guilty pleasure.
. . . it was very, very good. But sometimes it wasn't.
In the same style of "The 100 Year-Old Man" Jonasson has created a quirky absurdist piece of satire. The center of the story is Nombeko, the girl of the title, and as long as she is on stage there are sharp observations and laughs. Sparkling with wit and inate intelligence, she is the star of the production and provides the bulk of the enjoyment. ("Let me get my scissors") Unfortunately when the focus shifts to other story threads, the sparkle fades, matching the dullness of the the brother who is The Idiot and his Angry Young Woman girlfriend. I suspect that one needs a stronger insight into European politics in general and Swedish politics specifically if some of the inside jokes are to be fully appreciated. More than once too often everything that can go wrong does, thereby preventing Nombeko and her young man from saving the King and living happily ever after. While amusing for a while, these mishaps stopped being quite so funny, actually stalling the story progression instead of adding substance to the plot. Perhaps because I had already read "The 100 Year-Old Man", I was prepared for the wrap-up connecting all the dots. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable read, narrated well, especially Nombeko's voice. Recommended for those who enjoyed the humor and absurdity of "The 100-Year-Old Man".