by Jonas Karlsson
Hogarth/Crown| July 2016
Hardcover: 208 pages
ARC Paperback from LibraryThing/Early Readers in exchange for an unbiased review.
Published as “Fakturan” in the short story collection Spelrelerna by Wahlstrom & Widstrand (2011)
Having read several emotionally draining books recently I went on a search through my to-be-read books and decided it was time to read something lighter and fluffier. I picked up the tiny book, The Invoice, and read the book synopsis I had printed out when I received it from the publisher. The blurb described the book as hilarious, profound, and achingly true-to-life- Jonas Karlsson’s new novel explores the true nature of happiness through the eyes of hero you won’t soon forget.
Sounded perfect to me! So let me get it off my chest right away. I didn’t find it hilarious and profound. In some respects it felt achingly true-to-life. My overall impression was that it should have been left as a short story.
Now with all that negative bluster let me tell you what I did like about the book.
The unnamed Swedish protagonist lives a very simple life. By day he works part-time at Jugges Flicks spending most of his time staring out the window or re-watching classic films. By night he dines on take-outs from the same restaurants, favors the same ice cream parlor and reminisces over good times with a lost love and old friends that have married and moved on. He loves his low-rent apartment with the crushed cushion couch.
A strange letter appears in his mail one day that, at first, seemed a joke. The letter was an invoice from some outfit called WRD and claimed he owed 5.7 million kronor for EH. The figure was so outrageous and the abstract nature of the invoice had to be a joke or at best a mistake so he tossed it aside. But soon a second invoice arrived with added interest for late payment from a debt collection agency and he was rattled to his core.
Calling the help line for WRD resulted in an experience familiar to anyone calling a major customer service number...your expected wait time is..….. “What can I do for you?” Must have been a mistake. “No mistake.” I didn’t order anything. “Don’t you read the papers, watch television or keep up the news?” I had to admit I didn’t. “Well“, she said. “It’s time to pay up.”…What am I supposed to be paying for? “Everything.” What do you mean…everything? “Look around you..” I see clouds, people, children playing, trees… “What do you feel?” Happy. “What do you smell?” Something cooking, garbage, flowers… “Do you imagine all that is free? I thought so. “Being alive costs.”
The remainder of the book describes his thoughts, telephone conversations with the customer service clerk named Maud, and his interactions with the honchos at WRD.
Just so you won’t go crazy trying to find the meaning of WRD and EH I will tell you. WRD is World Resources Distribution and EH is Experienced Happiness. Every human has been sliced and diced through some complicated system that evaluates their life from birth to present resulting in the cost of acquiring their EH.
My thoughts and feelings
As I said earlier, I didn’t find the satire hysterically funny. But then, I don’t usually read satire. I did find the time he spent as a young man with his girlfriend, Sunita, lovely but immature. His siphoning friend, Roger, needs to get a job and his own life. Our Swede misses his mother and has buried his grief. And the story has a happy ending. No need for a tissue or regret.
So in the end I did have to admit that I had some deep personal thoughts about happiness and what is “true” happiness. As I live a life somewhat remote and hermit-like myself, I did question whether I was happy (I think so) or am I keeping conflict away and outside.
So here’s what I concluded. If you are taking a flight, riding shotgun on a long trip, or basking in the sun and want an easy read this book is for you. It took about 4 hours to read. I read slowly. It won’t offend you and it might cause you to reevaluate your place in the world.
P.S. I hate anonymous characters so I decided to call him Olaf in my mind.