Reviewer: Catriona Troth
What we thought: Jonas Jonasson has a genius for finding the cracks in history, inserting his characters into them and spinning out of them a surreal shaggy dog story. His books read like A Series of Unfortunate Events for grownups.
The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden starts in Soweto in the 1970s, with Nombeko, an illiterate latrine attendant with a special knack for numbers. Having had the misfortune to be run over on her fifteenth birthday by the Chief Engineer of South Africa’s secret nuclear weapons programme, Nombeko finds herself as a bonded labourer in his office, surrounded by barbed wire fences and guard dogs. The only glimmer of hope is that she is considerably smarter than her new boss.
Thousands of miles away, in Sweden, twins are born to monarchy-hating Ingmar Qvist, both of whom will be called Holger but only one of whom will officially exist.
Between those two improbable circumstances lies a web of bizarre coincidences and narrowly avoided disasters.
I am not quite sure how Jonasson gets away with putting the current Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt , along with King Carl Gustaf, in the back of a potato truck along with a bomb that was never supposed to exist. But somehow he does.
It helps if you know enough about 20th Century history to recognise when real world figures – such as Chinese President Hu Jintao – intrude on the story. But the story can be enjoyed even if you aren’t entirely sure where real life ends and fantasy begins.
You’ll enjoy this is you liked: The Hundred Year Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window and Disappeared.
Avoid if you dislike: playing fast and loose with world history
Perfect Accompaniment: chicken casserole, potatoes and lots of vodka (and a small package of antelope meat)
Genre: Comic Fiction
Available from Amazon