THE GIRL WHO SAVED THE KING OF SWEDEN by Jonas Jonasson
Whenever I pick up a book whose cover bears the words ‘uproariously funny’ I begin to wonder whether I should be reading it. After all, as we discovered when I reviewed THE ROSIE PROJECT a few months ago, I don’t exactly have a conventional sense of humour. Take TV’s Doc Martin for example. I admit to watching a couple of series of it and actually enjoying it, although it wasn’t for the laughs. I found Martin Clune’s portrayal more tragic than comedic – why would you want to make fun of someone like that? I lost interest and ceased watching when his character stubbornly refused to change and I haven’t been back since.
More recently I went to see Monty Python’s revival show. Not at the O2 I hasten to add as my budget only extends as far as the NTL rerun. This is another vein of humour – ‘and now for something completely different’, as they would say. I think it’s a form of verbal slapstick. Very occasionally it makes me laugh, as when The Spanish Inquisition burst in. Perhaps I should say it made me laugh once, forty years ago, since nowadays the arrival of The Spanish Inquisition isn’t as unexpected as it used to be. Thereafter the sketch becomes very silly and it’s not long before silly descends into stupid, at which point I tend to get cross with it. I was ready to walk out at the end of the first half.
And so with THE GIRL WHO SAVED THE KING OF SWEDEN. It’s a comedy but whereas THE ROSIE PROJECT has an element of subtlety, this book is in your face verbal slapstick and just like Monty Python, for the most part it’s very silly. And, just like Monty Python, it’s not long before silly descends into stupid. The book actually admits as much since the quotation at the beginning of Part One reads The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has limits. Well, I’ve got news - stupidity has its limits too. At least, it does for me. With Monty Python I lasted an hour and a quarter. With THE GIRL WHO SAVED THE KING OF SWEDEN I baled out at page 100.
Why? Firstly, because the book failed to achieve its primary goal and didn’t make me laugh – not even once. And secondly, because of its utterly preposterous plot.
Nombeko Mayeki grows up in Soweto which is quite possibly the most illiterate place on the planet. Despite this, she manages to learn to read and through visits to Johannesburg’s Central Library becomes an expert mathematician. To the extent that she knows more than the man running South Africa’s nuclear weapons programme. She soon finds herself on the run from the world’s most ruthless secret service with three Chinese sisters, twins who are officially one person and an elderly potato farmer.
How does she manage to get involved with the King of Sweden? I’m sorry but I was unable to suspend my disbelief sufficiently to get that far.
Don’t let all this put you off reading it – plenty of other people have done so and enjoyed it and it can truly claim to be an international best-seller. In fact, my comments tell you more about me than they do about the book, although I don’t want you to think that I don’t have a sense of humour at all. I have actually written a farcical comedy myself (FERIA) but whether I personally would find it funny is another matter. When I read a book I do it not because it might make me laugh but because I might learn something. I learnt nothing from THE GIRL WHO SAVED THE KING OF SWEDEN except perhaps that life is too short to waste time on things that are of no consequence to me.
Having said that, I did actually gain something from the experience but it was a point of pure academic interest for me as an author. In my bookcase on the landing I happen to have a copy of Jonas Jonasson’s first book, THE HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT OF THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED (which I haven’t read, by the way). I note that it was originally published in Sweden by Piratförlaget and latterly in this country by Hesperus Press before becoming internationally famous. THE GIRL WHO SAVED THE KING OF SWEDEN was also first published by Piratförlaget but its UK rights went to Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins. Excuse my cynicism, but the word ‘bandwagon’ springs to mind …