Do you have a quirky sense of humor, an off-the-wall way of looking at things? Do you enjoy stories that challenge your way of looking at the world, a mix of fantasy and reality? If you read (and liked) Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis or The Trial in school, or if Neil Gaiman’s fantastical London Underground world of Neverwhere is your style, I’d like to introduce you to Swedish author Jonas Karlsson. Karlsson (full name: Sven Bert Jonas Karlsson) is best known in Sweden as an actor and winner of a Guldbagge Award for Best Actor for the movie Details in 2004. But he’s making a second name for himself as an author of wry slice-of-life stories that ask uncomfortable “what if?” that seem alarmingly plausible. Here are two Karlsson books to try.
What if you were taxed by the government based on how happy you are? The unnamed main character of this story finds himself in just this fix, receiving an astronomically high invoice he can’t possibly even begin to pay. Eminently readable (and only 204 pages!), this Kafka-esque novel asks important questions. How much government intrusion in personal lives is acceptable? What makes a person happy? And should happiness be free? In our era of Big Brother and big government, of wealth redistribution and widespread depression, this is a book to help us all ponder what’s really important, and how to value what we have.
Most of us have worked in an office cubicle, dreaming of a private office that’s just for us. What if you stumbled upon such a private office – but only you knew it was there? Poor Bjorn can’t believe his luck – then can’t get anyone to believe him when he says The Room exists. Another short, compelling, weirdly readable tale, The Room is a study in workplace dynamics and office eccentricities, and makes you wonder what’s real and what’s not. Is Bjorn just misunderstood? Is he mentally ill? Maybe even mad? The reader gets uncomfortably stuck in Bjorn’s head and finds it all too easy to relate to the disbelieving boss and coworkers nervously trying to figure it all out.
Of these two, I liked The Invoice better, finding it a bit more concrete and with a more satisfying ending, but The Room is a worthy story and a worthwhile read.
5 stars for The Invoice, 3 for The Room.