Book Review: The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson

Disclaimer: I was given an advance copy of this book with a request for a review.

The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson

Last year I came across a recommendation for a book called The Room and just had to read it. No, not the best-selling Room that was turned into an Academy-award winning movie (although I also read that, and watched it, and you should too, because it’s great). No, I’m referring to the lesser known short work by Swedish actor/author Jonas Karlsson. In it, the antisocial Bjorn seems to find a secret room in his office that none of his coworkers will admit is there. Here is my brief 4 star review from Goodreads:

To some extent, this is the book that I wanted to write: an absurdist look at modern life and conformity. I love its humor, darkness, intensity, and brevity. Jonas Karlsson does not waste the reader’s time with unnecessary details simply to drag out his clever conceit. The character Bjorn comes across as the 21st century ambitious stepson of Bartleby.

Such a compelling review, I’m sure you just want to rush out and pick up a copy yourself, right?

Regardless, I really loved the book and when I saw that he had a new one coming out this year called The Invoice I was totally stoked and didn’t even bother reading the summary. Certainly there was some mysterious invoice that the protagonist would need to find the origins of. Maybe he would keep shredding the paper and yet it was always on his desk. The possibilities are endless!

At this point you may think my trademark sarcasm is overflowing but trust me, this is sincere.

Yes, this book is, indeed, about a mysterious invoice that shows up in our hero’s mailbox one day. An invoice for an extraordinary sum that he quickly assumes is a mistake, but soon finds that not only is it very serious, it is a matter that affects everybody. It turns out that the timeĀ  has come for people to pay, for lack of better words, for their quality of life. Unfortunately in the case of our unnamed protagonist, his bill has reached a level one might expect of a celebrity or a movie star or… a CEO, not that of a video store clerk living in a crummy apartment eating pizza mostly by himself.

Unlike his last work, Jonas Karlsson does not focus on the absurd setup for too long. Instead he uses the conceit as an exploration of the nature of happiness. Crap, I think I may have written the same line in my last review. As incredibly different as these two books were, there are some similar themes. But The Invoice is a much more lighthearted look at what matters most in life and how that is measured. Is there really an objective way to look at our experiences? Does our attitude toward life shape the highs and lows as much as the actual highs and lows themselves? Can a part-time film buff with few personal relationship and no plans for the future really be one of the most satisfied individuals in the country?

Karlsson is an enjoyable writer with a brevity that serves this kind of narrowly-focused speculative fiction well. I would give The Invoice 4 out of 5 stars if I knew how to add ratings.