When this story started to come together, when all the disparate threads started to weave together and create some sort of momentum, this book was suddenly a lot of fun and pretty damn amusing. Unfortunately, it didn't hit that point until about 340 pages in, with 40 pages left to go. While I enjoyed the last forty pages quite a bit, that's not really enough to make up for the way the previous pages didn't really engage me at all.
It's billed as hilarious. At most, I'd say moderately amusing. It's not a terrible book, and I'm not angry I read it. I was just a little bored by it. And here's why:
So little mattered to the main character.
And so, in consequence, I found it hard to have anything that happened matter to me. I don't like these detached, dissociated characters. I'm not interested in them, and their lack of connection to the world to me seems less a statement than lack of attention to writing a vivid character. <i>The Stranger</i> bothered me in the same way, but at least Camus was trying to do something there. In this case, it seems like the author is trying to create a blank slate and I don't think it helps the story.
The inside cover bills this as Forrest Gump, if Forrest Gump were 100, enjoyed vodka and knew how to build explosives. As far as we can tell, Allan Karlsson, the main character doesn't share the intellectual disabilities of Forrest Gump, but his life takes him through a surprising number of world events, including helping build the first atomic bomb, accidentally giving that secret to the Russians, drinking with Truman, saving Franco, not getting along so well with Lyndon B. Johnson, getting along quite well with Mao Tse-Tung, getting sent to a gulag in Vladivostok, etc., etc.
Allan's just not interested in politics, you see, and so he meets these people and doesn't pay attention to the political nonsense they speak, he just wants a drink. But while I think you can get away with a character who isn't as interested in world events as world events are interested in him, I don't think it works to have the main character care about nothing. If world events happen to him and are the backdrop for something that does have meaning to him, then that's one thing. But nothing does. Except maybe a drink. But even that isn't urgent enough to mean that much - he gives up drinking for over five years in Vladivostok, with nary a tremour. It does eventually drive him to leave, but apathetically. It's all apathetically. He does things, with a minimum of effort, but does them. And doesn't care.
For that to be enough to carry the work, everything else would have to be a damn sight more vivid than it is. Instead, it retains that detachment, that apathy, that lack of concern. And I didn't find that funny, I just found it tedious. And although the ending started to bring it together in amusing ways, that was not enough to make me fall in love with this world and this character.