My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I started reading this after my partner Steve recommended it but for about a third of the book I really didn't enjoy it and I even considered giving up. Beginning with the tale of a man who jumped out of the window of his old people's home on his 100th birthday to avoid a party, and interspersed with his wild claims of a life involving explosives, war, gulags and world leaders, the story seemed to ramble on and I struggled to make much headway. However, it seems this isn't a book that works when read in fits and starts – I tend to read mainly at bedtime and found myself falling asleep every night after only a couple of pages. One Saturday morning I read a decent chunk of this in one go and that seemed to do the trick- I started to get the humour and began to be reeled into this fantastical tale.
By the time I reached the end I really enjoyed this unusual novel. The mechanism used to weave together Allen's colourful past, the changing political history of the last 100 years and the present day story that follows Allen's escape from the home is very clever and there are a fair few laugh out loud moments along the way. I loved the character of Herbert Einstein – that one of the world's greatest geniuses could have an idiot half brother really appealed to me – yet I struggled with the idea of Sonya the elephant, not sure why!
However, I did feel this novel was way too long – there seemed to be an awful lot of repetition and while that is probably the author's style, I reckon the book would have benefitted from a tighter edit.
So overall an enjoyable read and an unusual style of storytelling. Not a classic by any means, but certainly a book I'm glad I enjoyed reading – once I got going on it!