Finally, I have reached Sweden in my summer literary journey, Around Europe in 14 Books.
If you’re familiar with my blog, you won’t be surprised to know that I was looking forward to starting my Swedish novel. If you’re new to my blog, just take a look at my About page and the Travel & Culture – Sweden Rambles from the blog’s Menu and you’ll understand that Sweden is an important part of my life now.
A Man Called Ove is not the first Swedish book I’ve read, but it turned out to be the best one I’ve read so far (before, I have only truly appreciated John Ajvide Lindqvist’s horror novels, Let the Right One In and Little Star).
Discover more about this novel by Fredrik Backman after the jump. Don’t forget to take a look at the previous book reviews from my reading challenge.
Read the previous posts:
Around Europe in 14 Books – #5: Sweden
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Original name: En man som heter Ove (Swedish)
Author: Fredrik Backman
Translator: Henning Koch
Publisher: Atria Books
Edition: 2014 (Kindle Edition)
Pages: 352 (print)
Genre: literary fiction, humour
Location: an unnamed residential area in Sweden
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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.
So, who’s this “man called Ove” (pronounced as oo-veh)? He’s a fifty-nine-year-old man who is not exactly the friendliest and most outgoing resident in the neighbourhood. Everything irks him in some way or another. Every day, he goes around the hood to check that all the rules are respected and if he sees anything that breaks these rules, Ove will take matters into his own hands.
It’s clear that Ove is a principled man ruled by integrity, logic and loyalty. His loyalty is epitomised by his obsession with Saab, a Swedish car brand which he has driven all his life, and he judges others who own different car makes. He also detests progress, thinking that the younger generations are good for nothing, and he loathes “suits” and “white shirts”, which represent bureaucracy. So far, he sounds like a regular grumpy middle-aged man. However, Ove has his own reasons for being so disgruntled, which the reader discovers through flashbacks.
Ove became so principled because he was raised by his Saab-loving father. The nice and quiet man instils in the young Ove the love for motors and the importance of personal integrity. After his father’s passing, Ove replaces him at his workplace and he becomes the copy of his parent, leading a lonely life. Until he meets the bright Sonja on a train and falls in love. She is his complete opposite and brings some balance to his rigid life and personality. This short quote perfectly describes the impact of Sonja on Ove:
People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.
Now, Ove is without Sonja and without a job. Sonja’s words of advice are still ringing in his head, but it seems like he cannot deal with people and life anymore. However, a series of events and persons will distract him from the negative thoughts. First comes a stray cat. Then the new neighbours – a “lanky” IT consultant, his pregnant Iranian wife and two kids – settle down next door. Then it’s long-time neighbours Anita’s and Rune’s problems. Then it’s the whole neighbourhood. For some reason, they all end up forcing themselves on Ove and Ove cannot ignore them, even though he isn’t supposed to meddle in other people’s business. He cannot ignore them because he’s precisely a rigid, principled guy.
And that’s how he slowly starts changing his way of thinking and learns an important lesson. What the reader learns, on the other hand, is that behind every grouchy middle-aged man is a backstory that explains it all.
So, yes, it’s one of those feel-good, somewhat sugary books with a plot which can be predictable and which plays on stereotypes. It’s the classic contemporary book which appeals to a large readership. Yet, despite its “mainstream” feeling, I loved it. You never know how a book is going to affect you; you can either dislike its formula or instead, it can touch you in a new, unexpected way.
A Man Called Ove is delightful. The character of Ove may be difficult to bear at first, but at the same time, one can admire his integrity. He seemed realistic enough to me, except perhaps for the age (he seemed more like an 80-year-old, I had to remind myself that he’s ‘only’ 59). What totally tipped the balance in favour of this book was his story with Sonja. It’s touching, heartwarming and bittersweet. I teared up here and there, but by the end, I was bawling my eyes out. And I’m not ashamed of it!
Apart from the sadness and sweetness, the narrative is humorous. It’s not one of those painfully quirky writing styles; the only eccentricity is the repetition of “A Man Called/Who Was Ove” in every chapter. I also liked the way the story unfolded, particularly Ove’s backstory. The author didn’t give out everything too quickly, so as my curiosity increased, I became more voracious and read faster.
As soon as I closed the book, I thought that this story could be easily turned into a movie. And in fact, I discovered that they actually made a Swedish movie out of it, released last December. I watched it last night and I liked it as well. Of course, as with all movies based on books, there are some differences however, they don’t ruin the story. It manages to convey the same atmosphere and emotions and most of the actors are excellent. It’s worth watching, but do not miss out on the book!
I heartily recommend A Man Called Ove. If you’re the kind of person who is touched when listening to life stories from mature persons, then this may be the right book for you. Just prepare yourself for a rollercoaster of emotions and enjoy it!