Hello! I’m sorry that I’ve been AWOL for a little bit. For most of May and the rest of this month, I’m in the unusual position of having four (part-time) jobs. This will even out at the end of this month, but that, combined with a little bit of travelling, a birthday celebration and some family committments, has meant that there wasn’t a ton of time for reading in May.
Something I did make time for, however, was the latest offering from Sweden’s Jonas Jonasson, who you may remember as the author of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, which I thoroughly enjoyed last spring. Matt and I spent part of my birthday in a bookstore, and when he noticed The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, I snapped it up right away.
Unfortunately, while its predecessor was delightfully rompy, well-paced and very funny, I felt this one fell a little flat. On Friday, I explained it to a friend as being about a third longer than it needed to be. This may be my journalistic background talking, but there is certainly something to be said for concise writing.
Like The 100-Year-Old Man, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden tells a story that sweeps through much of the mid-to-late 20th century to present day and gives more than a knowing nod to many historic and pop cultural events. We see Nelson Mandela freed from prison and elected president of South Africa; we recall Prince Harry dressed up as a Nazi and running around naked in Las Vegas. We even get a likeable heroine – the plucky Nombeko, who ascends from the slums of Soweto to save the King of Sweden. In doing so, she encounters a series of one-dimensional and largely unlikeable characters with complicated backstories. We have identical twins Holger One and Holger Two, raised by a lunatic republican father. There are also Celestine, the inexplicably angry girlfriend of Holger One, three South African Chinese women who make elaborate false copies of ancient pottery, an American suffering from PTSD, an incompetent South African nuclear engineer, world leaders, kings and many more.
There’s more plot than story in this book – in short, there is too much to follow and not enough to care about. While The 100-Year-Old Man was a fun, Forrest Gump-style romp through a century of politics and science, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden is messy and complicated. It’s clever, to be sure, but there’s a lot more style than substance happening here. Light-heartedness and bright satire doesn’t save it from being a little too overdone for my liking.