Q & A: Jonas Jonasson
Jonas Jonassen has achieved enormous international success with his own brand of irreverent and oddball black comedy. His writing is far removed from that of Scandinavian Noir writers such as Stieg Larsson; Jonasson offers something altogether lighter.
You will recognise him as the author of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, a phenomenally successful comic novel which details the bizarre and wonderful journey of an amusingly cantankerous - and very old – man.
His second novel was the uproariously funny The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden whch tells the story of Nombeko Mayeki. Nombeko begins her life in a township in South Africa only to end up embroiled in a plot to kidnap Swedish royalty.
Our book club title this week is Jonassen’s newly penned and delightfully madcap tale Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All. This time, the story revolves around three key characters, all of whom reside in the same shabby Stockholm hotel. They are a violent and lonely assassin, a plucky hotel receptionist and a protestant priest who, rather inexplicably, is an atheist.
When five thousand kronor go missing from the assassin’s room, the situation is more than a little awkward for the hotel’s receptionist; but it is when the rather unusual priest in room eight not only finds the money but decides to keep it that a series of truly zany events begin to unfold.
We were lucky enough to interview Jonassen about his writing, his world view and his inspiration for the new novel:
What inspired you to write this novel?
There are infinite ways of describing just what Humans are capable of on this earth.
Each one of them inspire me to weave stories full of misery and hope. Misery and hope, that is pretty much how I view mankind.
Hitman Anders is a very original creation … how did you come up with him?
As I said, misery and hope. That’s my hitman, right there. I collect life stories and characters in my everyday life. When the time comes to create somebody, for a story, I pick and choose from the library of characters I keep in my head.
One consistent element of your work is the way you use humour to make serious points about society. Is there ever a tension between the desire to entertain and the desire to express something more serious?
Absolutely! I take pleasure in writing. But the writing process is also a battle, to a certain extent, and that is the battle between humour and the underlying message. Too much of the humour and people will lose interest in me. Too much of the other and I become boring.
Do you see Hitman Anders as a continuation from your previous two novels, or is it something different for you?
"Same, same but different"? All of my novels, including the one I am writing now, describe travelling through life. Physically and humanly. But the journeys are very different from each other and they deal with the shortcomings of mankind from different perspectives.
To an extent this is a novel about underdogs and outsiders getting even with the establishment. How does this fit in with your world view?
Hmm… My world view? I feel like my view of the world is always one step behind the world itself. Every time I fathom mankind, it has already found a way to turn everything upside down. Other than that, I would have to refer to my therapist. Luckily, she is sworn to secrecy.
Your characters have a very thorough knowledge of the bible (even if some of them apply its teachings in unconventional ways…) Did you have a religious upbringing?
Didn't we all, somehow? The church is ever present in the debate, in movies, literature, politics… I believe the bible is full of too much nonsense, but my existing or non-existing belief does not spring from the bible. To me, faith is not the issue. Knowing is. I know that Jesus moved into the soul of my beloved big brother and that my big brother is now a confident and happy man. I also presume to know that the infinity of the universe and what not is so incomprehensible to us, poor human beings, that it would be intellectually daft to claim that there is nothing or nobody behind it all.
Your novels often feature strong female characters who pull the strings and make things happen, despite often being treated incredibly badly by the world (Johanna Kjellander in this novel; Nombeko in the last book). How equal do you feel men and women are in Sweden today?
Sweden may be the most “equal” country in the world. And yet so much remains to be done. I keep saying that Woman is constantly fooled. She is underpaid, professions where women traditionally dominate have lower status, she has a harder time making a career for herself because her boss is more often than not a man who prefers to recruit images of himself. A tad simplified, but only a tad.
Your fiction has been incredibly successful all over the world. Do different countries consider you and publish you differently?
A Korean journalist came to visit me the other day, here on my island in the Baltic Sea. He came all the way from Seoul for an interview. I have sold hundreds of thousands of books there, in a culture so different from ours. As it happens, a year or so ago, I was the bestselling author in Korea. And there are similar examples in other parts of the world.
My point is that it is fascinating to me how people with such different backgrounds find common ground in laughter and worries. People are not that different, after all. One would think that would give us a reason to stop turning others into demons. Another answer to the same question is that I generally seem to get a more serious reception with Hitman Anders. Literary critics seem to find other dimensions than the sense of humour itself. That is in fact a common response, in any country. The positive reviews make me happy, of course. I did not assume that critics in different countries would all see the intellectual depth of the fact that it is more fun to have fun, than not.
What do you want readers to take from your fiction?
Read, smile – and take a moment to think things over. Then go make a small difference.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?
I don’t know exactly why I feel this way, but my library is a very personal thing. If I was to show it to the world, the world would be able to tell me who I am. That would be something of a nuisance, if the world found out before I do.