2015 Books in Translation

The Room by Jonas Karlsson

The Room Translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith

Five words from the blurb: colleagues, different, fable, reality, office

The Room is a short, but entertaining fable about an office worker who discovers a room that no one else can see. Björn begins a new job at the “Authority” and when trying to find the toilet he accidentally walks into a strangely calming room. He becomes increasingly drawn towards it, discovering that he is easily able to perform complex tasks whilst there. The only problem is that his new colleagues are unable to see the room and become convinced that Björn is losing his mind.

“I passed the room twice that day. Once on my way to the toilet, and once when I tidied my desk and went to put two old journals in the recycling bin. I tried not to think about it. I did my best to imitate the others and pretend the room didn’t exist. It felt utterly ridiculous. Of course there’s a room there, I thought. After all, I can see it. I can touch it. I can feel it.

This book was very easy to read and managed to combine a satire of office politics with a surreal story that questions our perception of reality. I loved the way that the bizarre circumstances were made to feel completely normal and I felt great sympathy for those on both sides of the argument.

If you’ve ever worked in an office you’ll appreciate the humorous observations about working with people with whom you have nothing in common and if you enjoy Kafka’s books then I’m sure you’ll appreciate this modern equivalent of his style. Recommended to anyone looking for something a little different.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

For something that sounds and appears so bare and simple it is a richly complex and refreshing read. The Literary Tree (warning this review contains spoilers)

The Room has the makings of a cult classic. Learn this Phrase

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this on my Books of the Year list come December. Me and My Big Mouth

Note: I couldn’t find any negative reviews of this book. I don’t know if that is because it has only just been published or because it is universally loved!

1960s Crime

Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Roseanna (The Martin Beck series)Translated from the Swedish by Lois Roth

Five words from the blurb: detective, Sweden, crime, strangled, boat

Martin Beck is commonly described as one of the best fictional detectives ever created and this series always tops crime fiction “must-read” lists. Roseanna is the first of ten books and I’ve been wanting to try it for a long time. I’m pleased I’ve finally read this crime classic and look forward to enjoying the rest of the series. 

The plot was quite simple, revolving around the discovery of a dead woman in a lake. The identity of her killer is quickly narrowed down to one of the 85 people on board a passenger ferry. Martin Beck uses his slow, but thorough detective skills to locate the murderer in this easy to read, but gripping narrative.

Roseanna was written in the 1960s, a golden age for crime fiction. In our Internet age there is something charming about the lack of mobile phones and the fact that it takes two weeks for messages to travel from America to Sweden.  The writing also has a gentleness that means it isn’t disturbing, no matter how violent the crime. 

Unfortunately I was a little disappointed by the ending. Despite the initial slowness of the investigation, the resolution seemed to happen too easily. I wished that there had been several suspects so the reader had the opportunity to guess whodunnit.  Instead it just seemed like a charming introduction to Martin Beck – nothing really wrong with that, but not that exciting either:

When he smiled, you could see his healthy, white teeth. His dark hair was combed straight back from the even hairline and had not yet begun to gray. The look in his soft blue eyes was clear and calm. He was thin but not especially tall and somewhat round-shouldered. Some women would say he was good looking but most of them would see him as quite ordinary. He dressed in a way that would draw no attention. If anything, his clothes were a little too discreet.

I’ve heard that the real joy of this series is seeing how Beck (and Sweden) develop over time and so although this wasn’t completely satisfying I’m still keen to try the rest of the series.


Have you read this series?

Were you hooked from book one?

Which books in this series did you enjoy the most?



2012 Books in Translation

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared Translated from the Swedish by Rod Bradbury

Five words from the blurb: escaping, unlikely, journey, momentous, life

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is the word-of-mouth bestseller of 2012. Positive reviews seem to be cropping up on a daily basis – so I thought I’d add another one to its arsenal.

The book begins with Allan jumping out of his bedroom window just before his 100th birthday party. Tired of being cooped up in his retirement home he decides to escape and have one last adventure. He begins an unrealistic journey involving murder, a suitcase of stolen money, and many narrow escapes from the police. Over the course of his travels we learn about his life; an equally unlikely story about meeting the greatest leaders of the last century at key moments in history.

This book was totally mad, but it had a heartwarming charm that thoroughly entertained me.

The corpse fell forwards and hit his forehead on an iron handle.
‘That would have been really painful if the circumstances had been a little different,’ said Allan.
‘There are undoubtedly advantages to being dead,’ said Julius.

My only problem was that I felt the book was a bit too long. I enjoyed seeing Allan meet Harry Truman, Chairman Mao and Churchill, but by the time he met Kim Il Sung I thought the joke was wearing a bit thin – there are only so many world leaders a person can meet without the stories becoming a bit repetitive. I think it might have been better if he’d been an ordinary citizen having a mad adventure, instead of a book that included so many famous people and a potted history of the 21st century.

Overall this was an entertaining, original book and as long as you don’t take it too seriously I’m sure you’ll be charmed by it too.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

It’s very funny with enough intelligence in the historical flashbacks to keep more serious readers engrossed. The Tattooed Book

…fresh, funny and different, but I can’t say that it is very good. Swamp of Boredom

…one of the most unique books I’ve read this year. The Savvy Reader