cover image The Invoice

The Invoice

Jonas Karlsson, trans. from the Swedish by Neil Smith. Hogarth, $24 (208p) ISBN 978-1-101-90514-2

Karlsson (The Room) explores the elusiveness of happiness in modern times. When a part-time clerk at Jugge’s Flicks, an art house video store in Stockholm, receives an invoice for nearly six million kroner (more than $900,000) from a mysterious bureaucratic entity called World Resources Distribution (WRD), he assumes that someone somewhere is running a scam. The absurd request—which turns out to be a tax on Experienced Happiness—triggers a series of reassessments that forces the protagonist to recall every major event in his life to determine if he is, as WRD claims, extraordinarily happy. Sure, while a student at university he experienced a life-changing and clandestine relationship with a beautiful Indian student who left him for an arranged marriage, but at first glance, his life has been uneventful. While protesting the charge, which increases even as he makes daily desperate calls to WRD., he falls for Maud Andersson, the voice on the other end of the line. Could the narrator’s own blithe acceptance of life’s foibles further complicate his situation? Karlsson’s story recalls the work of Jorge Luis Borges and Franz Kafka, if those two had been, well, happy. The narrator, an affable fellow at loose ends, understands his uncluttered life better than he thinks he does, and the author’s sympathetic portrayal of him, as well as the mirror his experience holds to an increasingly Byzantine and humorless society, wins the day. (July)