THE GIRL WHO SAVED THE KING OF SWEDEN by Jonas Jonasson, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles (HarperCollins), 386 pages, $21.99 paper. Rating: NN
There is a point where an absurdist novel can get too ridiculous. Jonas Jonasson goes there in The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden.
The story starts in South Africa, where brilliant black teen Nombeko works in a sanitation station but via a series of improbable (and that's okay) events, winds up in Sweden. There she meets the Holger twins, one of whom she falls in love with. The other's life ambition is to assassinate Sweden's king. When Nombeko gets possession of an atom bomb, it looks like he might succeed.
As in his previous Forrest Gumpian novel, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, Jonasson's protagonist has unlikely encounters with world movers and shakers, this time out the president of China, Mossad agents, the king, of course, and more.
But where The Man is quirky and charming, The Girl is frustrating and loaded with racial clichés. I do appreciate a black heroine who succeeds in apartheid South Africa and is smarter than every white guy around her. But writing a farce doesn't give you permission to stereotype the Chinese, Israelis and others. So much for Swedish neutrality.
And this is one of those narratives where the way events unspool makes you want to scream. I get that not a single plot development is supposed to be credible, but there's a point where twists and turns in the story - to say nothing of the mind-numbingly dumb things the characters do - make a reader feel more diddled than entertained.
Maybe Jonasson is an acquired taste, but I won't be ordering him from the menu any time soon.