Fiction · Literary

Cheerful Kafka’s Lucky Life


The Invoice
Author: Jonas Karlsson, trans. from the Swedish
Published: Hogarth Press | July 2016
Length: 204 pages

Buy: Amazon

The British publication Mail On Sunday writes of The Invoice: “It’s as if Kafka decided to look on the bright side.” They couldn’t have said it better. Both Kafka’s protagonist in The Trial and Swedish Jonas Karlsson’s protagonist in The Invoice find themselves swamped with a series of completely unexpected bad news that keeps on getting worse. Kafka’s Joseph K.  is brought to trial without explanation, and Karlsson’s nameless hero receives notice of a debt out of nowhere. He has been fined merely for the experience of living and this debt is so large he will never be able to re-pay it.

While Kafka paints a meaningless world where life’s trajectory towards death swallows everything else up (in fact, Joseph K. gives his wardens directions to his execution block), Karlsson pulls back the curtain on a world where one cannot help but live! Comically, Karlsson’s hero conjures up every negative experienced he has endured, attempting to validate his complaint that he has been charged an undeservedly high fee for life’s experience. Indeed, his life holds nothing resumé worthy: he’s but a poor chap working in a video store with no hope of a promotion, and no girlfriend. Nevertheless, his digging has the opposite effect. Our hero’s debt keeps increasing as he uncovers how lucky he has truly been.


You’ll have to read the book to find out how the hero gets out of this mess, but Karlsson’s fable leaves a clear message: the wonders life offers don’t come through expensive packages or silver platters. The richest of us live in the moment, taking the time to feel the erotic nature of the breeze,  taste every subtle flavor in a bite of food, and sigh with that wonderful sense of “coming home.”This kind of happiness is untouchable. Pessimists beware, this book is so cheerful you might gag. I, however, always believe that hope is the best medicine, and Karlsson spoons out a giant dose!


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