Hilarious, profound, and achingly true-to-life, Jonas Karlsson’s new novel explores the true nature of happiness through the eyes of a hero you won’t soon forget. A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and a movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm. When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country.
What is the price of a cherished memory? How much would you pay for a beautiful summer day? How will our carefree idealist, who is content with so little and has no chance of paying it back, find a way out of this mess? All these questions pull you through The Invoice and prove once again that Jonas Karlsson is simply a master of entertaining, intelligent, and life-affirming work.
First off, I think calling this a novel is a stretch. It’s just over 150 pages, and it took me less than 3 hours to finish it. The premise was interesting and the writing solid, but something was missing. I finished the book not really understanding why this single middle-aged guy with a dead-end part-time job was somehow the happiest guy in Sweden. His “few precious friends,” as the synopsis describes them, are really just immature losers who pop in and out of his life. Before the invoice arrives, our unnamed hero is a boring gray blob of a person–the only interesting aspect of this story are his repeated conversations with Maud, the phone representative for the agency who sent him the astronomical invoice.
Additionally, I would have liked more details about what W.R.D. really is. Are they a government agency? A corporation? Some kind of bureaucratized karmic institution? I have no idea. Our hero doesn’t seem to be able to pay attention to any of the information given him, so the readers are left just as confused at the end as they are at the beginning. I would have been fine with the level of information we received were this a short story, but when you read something of this length you expect more answers than what Karlsson was willing to give.
That leads to my biggest problem with The Invoice–I feel like the author beats us over the head with his satirical point, without actually telling us what the point is. Are we supposed to feel critical of the government? Businesses? Society? Materialism? Consumerism? Responsibility? Attachment? The symbolism, and at times the story itself, is so vague that I walked away not quite sure that I’d “gotten” whatever it was Karlsson desperately wanted me to get.
Despite these issues, I did enjoy this book. There was a scene toward the end between the protagonist and Maud that was especially touching. I think this would be a good film, actually, if the idea of W.R.D. was fleshed out a little more. If you’re not usually bothered by the issues I mention above and you enjoy literary satire, I would definitely recommend it.
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.