The Invoice

The Invoice Book Cover The Invoice
Jonas Karlsson
Fiction
Hogarth
July 12, 2016 (English)
Paperback
208

Hilarious, profound, and achingly true-to-life, Jonas Karlsson’s novel explores the true nature of happiness through the eyes of hero you won’t soon forget

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? All these questions pull you throughThe Invoice and prove once again that Jonas Karlsson is simply a master of entertaining, intelligent, and life-affirming work.

 

The Invoice is a story that lies somewhere between being a book and being a short story. Generally, anything that passes the 200-page mark would easily be considered a book. But The Invoice is physically smaller than usual for a paperback book (or at least my copy was; hooray for advance copies from Goodreads giveaways!) and the font is larger than what you would typically find in a trade paperback. Along with the physical details, the style of the reading is much more in line with a short story than anything else. After reading only a small portion of The Invoice, it felt like the type of story that a teacher would have given you in a high school English class. The premise of the story, which takes a fair amount of time to become completely clear, feels both complicated and uncomplicated at the same time.

This story features an unnamed man who one day receives an invoice stating that he owes several million kroner (8.5 kroner = 1 US dollar, give or take). Scoffing at what is clearly a clerical error, he ignores this particular piece of mail. But then another one comes. And another. And another. And then he starts to think maybe these little pieces of paper are not mistakes. This book takes such a simple concept and expands on this big “what if” scenario: What if you were suddenly taxed for happiness? If a big company came out of seemingly nowhere and told you, “We have looked at your life and our algorithms state you owe X amount for your life’s happiness. Pay up,” what would you do? How do you condense happiness, raw emotion, into the cold calculating statistics used from an economic standpoint? And what consequences might those results have on you?

Ask yourself the following questions. Are you happy? Think about if you are happy right now. Are you? What about on a day to day basis? How much of your average day is spent feeling happy? What about now compared to last week? How about last month? Last year? How about when you were a teenager, or a child, or a toddler? On the whole of it, how has happiness affected you? In what ways have happiness, or a lack thereof, shaped who you are as a person? How many little changes would it take for the happiness you feel now to be whisked away? In what ways do all of these questions affect not just you, but the people around you? The people you care about? For that matter, how many of the folks you talk to on a regular basis are individuals who you really, truly care about?

These questions and more are all things that go through our unnamed character’s mind as this unprecedented situation forces him to evaluate himself in ways he would never have thought of otherwise. Likewise, it forces us as readers to ponder these questions as we make our way through The Invoice. If this story had been written differently, it may not have worked. The short story format definitely feels like it was the right way to go, with each little chapter portraying itself expertly. The Invoice makes you wonder about how happy people really are and how much of that is determined by choice or simple circumstance. The book does not take itself too seriously in this; it is a bit of a satire but that is largely what makes an otherwise ridiculous premise all the more believable. Some people say the best things in life are free and this book questions that by simply asking, “What if they weren’t?”

September 4, 2016

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