A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm. When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country. What is the price of a cherished memory? How much would you pay for a beautiful summer day? How will our carefree idealist, who is content with so little and has no chance of paying it back, find a way out of this mess?
After reading The Room by Jonas Karlsson last year, I was really excited to get a chance to review his latest book, The Invoice. I wasn’t disappointed. It isn’t as dark as The Room, not necessarily a bad thing, but it is just as different. It is odd-ball and funny and really clever and I loved it.
It starts with “our hero” receiving a huge bill from a government agency, WRD, whose he’s never heard of. He has no idea what he owes the money for but he knows he can’t pay. A phone call that sees him on hold for most of the day and all of the night answers his questions and leaves him more confused. He’s being billed for being happy…
“It’s calculated according to a formula that takes account of age, place of residence, particular experiences, success, proximity to the sea. That sort of thing. Quality of home and relationships, et cetera. Taken as a whole, that constitutes your personal quantity of Experienced Happiness. Your levels will be constantly updated, provided that all information can be verified. It’s all officially administered, of course, but I’m afraid I can’t make an estimate as things stand … Have you had any notable setbacks?”
It’s all above board. He just finds it hard to believe they believe he is so happy. He lives in a small, rented, apartment, works part time in a video rental store and barely makes enough to pay his bills. He has few friends and no girlfriend, not for a long time. How can he owe so much when (as he discovers) others owe so little. With the help of Maud, who answers his first phone call, he goes on a personal journey of discovery and realises that maybe life isn’t quite as bad after all…
“Besides the welfare premium, whiteness premium, male premium, there’s also … let’s see … No problems sleeping. Workplace compatibility one hundred per cent. One old friend—Roger—who visits regularly, but no social obligations. In other words, nothing but positive attributes …”
By the time I had finished The Invoice I was feeling pretty positive myself. I was a little in love with our hero and Maud and their relationship, who were really well written and I found myself turning the pages quickly. Despite the quirky story, it still felt real. I could kind of imagine it happening.
That doesn’t mean this book is lightweight. It isn’t. WRD has shades of big brother and the book asks questions about whether you need things to be happy (our hero’s initial assumption) and why people don’t think a day in the sunshine eating ice-cream is enough. It’s gently done though, not beating you over the head but taking you along with it. Or at least taking me along because, whilst this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is definitely mine and I loved it.
Note: I received this from blogging for books in return for a fair and honest review. All thought, feelings and opinions are my own.