Blair's Reviews > The Invoice

The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson
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Jan 04, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: 2016-release, contemporary, translated, read-on-kindle

Jonas Karlsson's second novel to be translated into English is the charming, funny and surreal tale of a man – our unnamed narrator – who is sent an invoice for a huge amount of money. At first he ignores it, assuming it's a clerical error. But then he overhears other people talking about the amount they owe, and it turns out he's missed an 'information campaign, all the discussions... the whole debate'. Swedish citizens are being invoiced for, basically, everything – the whole experience of their lives – and the more content they've been, the bigger their debt. Maud, the exasperated helpline operator he starts to develop a crush on, tells him there's a discount for anxiety – 'provided it can be verified, or you can give us specific dates that can be compared with other activities that aren't incompatible with poor mental health'.

The narrator lives a pleasant, unassuming life: at 39, he has a low-effort job in a video shop, and rents a small apartment. He's been single for a while, and occasionally thinks wistfully of the long-gone 'love of his life', Sunita. He isn't unhappy, but the suggestion that his 'Experienced Happiness' has been dizzyingly high baffles him. Naturally, he starts to wonder whether it's some kind of conspiracy. Have the people he overhears been planted to make him more likely to pay up? 'After all, no one I knew had said anything about this. And there was something a bit odd about all those people discussing it in the city, wasn't there?' He decides to pursue W.R.D., the shady organisation responsible for the invoice, to get to the bottom of it all – and hopefully meet Maud.

I liked Karlsson's way of illuminating the good things about the narrator's life, showing how happy and lucky he's been without even realising it, and without 'achieving' any of the things many of us regard as markers of success and fulfilment: a significant career, marriage, children, owning property. Indeed, some of his experiences, such as his short relationship with Sunita, are deemed to have generated maximum happiness precisely because they were fleeting. It's a concept this short book seems to adhere to itself. The point is that a human life doesn't have to match a conventional template to be satisfying, but Karlsson isn't pushy about his 'message' and doesn't let the quirky characters outstay their welcome.

This is a sweet, feelgood tale – it's not deep and it doesn't examine the ideas it broaches in any detail. There are a few touches of satirical humour, especially when the narrator visits W.R.D.'s head office, but nothing to match Karlsson's dark and hilarious debut The Room. It's simply a lovely, life-affirming story.
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