Friday, December 9, 2016

The Invoice, by Jonas Karlsson

Like his earlier novel, The Room, Jonas Karlsson's The Invoice is Kafka-lite.  His writing isn't as dark or complex as Kafka's, but it is funnier and more fun to read.  When Karlsson's protagonist receives an invoice for 5,700,000 kronor (about US$625,000), he thinks it's a scam or a joke.  When it turns out to be somewhat legitimate, he enters a Kafka-esque world of bureaucracy and frustration.  The figure is an actual "cost of living," calculated on the basis of the amount of happiness he has experienced.  He had no idea he was that happy!  He asks the helpful telephone representative, "But how can it amount to so much?" She replies, "Well, being alive costs."

Even though he lives a simple life--unmarried and childless, he works at a video store and lives alone--it's uncomplicated and, more than he realized, privileged.  A number cruncher at the mysterious firm from which the invoice came considers his file: "Besides the welfare premium, whiteness premium, male premium, there's also . . . let's see . . . No problems sleeping.  Workplace compatibility one hundred percent. . . . no social obligations.  In other words, nothing but positive attributes."

It's never really clear what this firm is, how it came to be, or where this revenue goes.  But that's not really the point.  In a light-hearted way, Karlsson pokes fun at bureaucracy and legalistic, hard-nosed accounting and evaluation.  More importantly, Karlsson raises the question of the value we place on happiness, and what constitutes a truly happy life.  It may be that the simple, even mundane, lives we live give us happiness beyond what we can ever measure monetarily.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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