A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Published by: Atria Books
Publish Date: 2014
Genre(s): Fiction, Contemporary, Swedish, Translated
HB&W Rating: 5
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A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.
Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?
Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
I almost didn’t read this book. I wasn’t really looking forward to it. After reading Bear Town about a year ago, which I didn’t care for, I was afraid that this book wouldn’t live up to the hype. After all, Bear Town had plenty of hype too. I had my doubts, and when my name came up on the wait list for it at the library, I dreaded starting it so much that I waited until 3 days before it was due back to start it.
But start it I did, and I’m glad for it. I LOVED this book. Maybe it’s because it hit me so close after the death of my grandpa, who is presumably of the same generation as our hero, Ove. Maybe it’s because I could see so much of my grandpa in this character: his outlook on things, his moral compass, his ability to fix anything, and most especially his love for his wife. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t stop comparing Ove to the character in Pixar’s “Up” from several years back, which hits you right in the feels every time. I don’t know. All I know is that this book made me laugh, made me cry, and made me feel. I love books that evoke strong emotions, and in his very particular writing style, Backman did that with this book.
Ove is the epitome of grumpy old man. He thinks the world is going to hell because people can’t properly back up a trailer, doesn’t trust technology, rarely smiles, and can’t stand overpaying for anything. He kicks things to see if they’re up to par, he incites rage from yippy dog owners, and has a nickname for everyone on his block that he can’t be bothered to learn the names of, and they are rarely flattering.
He was a man of black and white. And she was color. All the color he had.
The taciturn thoughts and curmudgeonly actions of this man might lead one to think he’s uncaring and unfeeling, but nothing could be farther from the truth. As much as he hates wasting money, he buys flowers for his wife’s grave every single time he visits. When she expresses the desire to purchase something completely impractical, even if he disagrees, he buys it for her anyway just to make her happy, just to see her smile. He would do absolutely ANYthing for his wife, simply because he loves her.
And when she giggled she sounded the way Ove imagined champagne bubbles would have sounded if they were capable of laughter.
The deep and abiding love of this man for his wife is enough to pull at your heartstrings, but it is in his daily interactions with his neighbors, flashbacks into his past with his mother and father, and as a young man making his own way in the world that show just what kind of man Ove is, and who he isn’t.
I think it’s incredibly easy for a younger person today to see a man like Ove as just a grumpy old man who is exasperating to deal with. What this book does is remind us all of a few things. First, you don’t get to reach a certain age without seeing a lot in life. The loss of loved ones, seeing friends lose memories and their spark for life, experiencing loss and pain and grief. A little compassion and patience goes a long way.
Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for living….We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.
Second, I think Ove’s perspective helps us look at things in a new light, seeing that just because you don’t win every fight doesn’t mean you don’t keep fighting for what’s right. Seeing how just because we don’t understand what a person wants doesn’t mean we can’t relate to what motivates their desire.
But while this book could be heavy at times, it wasn’t depressing. There were several times, reading in bed late at night, I would laugh out loud and cause my husband to ask what was so funny. After a while, I stopped letting him ask me and just shared it with him regardless of whether he wanted to know, or was even in fact awake.
He had no intention of placing his foot in an American car, unless his foot and the rest of his body had first been placed in a coffin.
While there is sadness, there is light as well. This is a story about love, loss, resilience, and hope, with a dash of humor along the way that will have you laughing one moment and dabbing at tears in your eyes the next. If you enjoy complex character studies, you will enjoy this book.
Until we meet again, happy reading!
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