Review: The Invoice, Can you put a price on happiness?

“Can you put a price on happiness?  one man is about to find out”

The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson was initially written in Swedish and recently translated into English.  It is an interesting fable of a film buff in his 30’s, working in a video store with no hope of promotion but content with his simple life.  He lives in a small flat and is living hand to mouth without any savings, owning nothing of value.  He has a handful of  friends and both his parents are long dead and his only family is a Sister that he rarely sees.   One day he is sent an invoice for a huge sum of money from a new government agency (W.R.D).  He does what most of us would do and thinking it is a scam or a mistake, ignores it. He overhears other people talking about having to pay a lot of money and come to the realization that it is genuine.  Then a  reminder is arrives with added interest and he decides to investigate.  He calls the phone number on the bill to investigate and they are charging everybody based on their level of happiness but due to his contentment with so little owes a huge amount and he has no way to repay the debt.

In some ways this book is quite creepy and a cautionary tale with regards to the level of surveillance that everybody is under, the protagonist doesn’t seem bothered by this however.

Overall I liked the book, at first it did annoy me because the basic premise seemed a little far-fetched but as it went on I was able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy.  It could be viewed as quite a philosophical novel as the basic premise appears to be that happiness has very little to do with what you have but how you perceive it.  The narrator has almost nothing, and yet he is one of the happiest people in the country.  He takes immense pleasure in the small things of life in contrast to his friend Roger who is  a pessimist and even when things work out well he grasps the negative.  You could call it a surreptitiously  Buddhist book.

In some ways this book is quite creepy and a cautionary tale with regards to the level of surveillance that everybody is under.  The government agency seems to be aware of far too much, more than I would be comfortable knowing but the protagonist doesn’t seem bothered by this, in fact he doesn’t even question the right of an agency to be collecting so much data on him.  How much data is being collected about us all without us being aware of it.  This is never directly mentioned but it certainly crossed my mind.   I am not sure if is a Scandinavian cultural trait to be trusting of authority and bureaucracy as I cannot see the book, if written from a British or American perspective the protagonist wouldn’t have been so passive.

The book is narrated in the first person, it has a light and conversational style  with lots of dialogue and is a very easy read.  It is also a short book at only 150 pages but the pace is fairly languid and therefore I was quite happy to put it down and read it in chunks but it could easily be read in one sitting.

The author is, according to the book jacket one of Sweden’s most prominent actors and he has also produced several books only two of which have been translated into English, this one and The Room  which from looking at goodreads it is about a bureaucrat who discovers a secret room in his office building which nobody else will talk about.

Overall I would recommend this book as it is not a big time investment and does make you think about happiness and  cherishing the little things in life.

Review - The Invoice






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