Contemporary Literature

A Man Called Ove

This is the second Fredrik Backman novel that I’ve read. The first was My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, which was one of my favorite books from last year and is probably still in my top 20 (ish) of all time. But Ove was actually published earlier and was, in fact, Backman’s first novel. My mother has been recommending it since her book club read it a few years ago, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it. Partially I’ve just been busy, but honestly the description didn’t sound as good as Grandmother and I have a ton of other books on my TBR that I was more interested in. So it worked out when Ove was chosen as the June read for one of my book clubs. It was the push I needed to fit it in. And now I can feel good about finally reading one the books my mom has recommended to me (as opposed to the other way around).

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove 00004

“For the first quarter of the book, I think I rolled my eyes so many times I lost count. Ove was such an extreme caricature of a crotchety old man that it made it essentially impossible to take seriously. Also, considering that the author specifically called him out as being 59 years old, I kind of felt like he was too young to be so dramatically into the “things just aren’t like they used to be” golden olden days perspective. I just felt like Ove was way too one dimensional to be realistic. It was, at times, like the “annoyed at millennials” meme guy was brought to life and this was his story.

Regardless, I pushed forward quickly because the writing was straightforward, smooth, and just generally easy to read. As the story progresses, we learn more about Ove, his childhood, his wife, his life, and how he got to the point where he was the most curmudgeonly man to ever live. It helped. I enjoyed some of the quirky story points, the alternating past and present chapters all titled “A Man Called Ove and…” versus “A Man Who Was Ove and…” Ove’s many failed attempts to rejoin his wife are charming, in a depressingly comical way, an ambiance that I imagine is not something everyone can easily achieve in their writing, so I give credit to the author for that. And the growing cast of characters that we, along with Ove himself, get to meet and become halfheartedly entangled with, are all cute in their own ways. But like Ove himself, none of them really develop into anything deep or nuanced enough to seem very real.

I will admit that I got pulled in to the point that, during the last few chapters where we see all our characters’ stories wrap up, I cried. I mean, take that with a grain of salt because I’m know to cry often and with very little provocation, but I did find that the endings were touching in various ways (unexpected, considering the very rocky start). Still, and this is clearly my primary critique of the book, everything was wrapped up in an easy, surface level only, sort of way. But since that’s all we really got of the characters anyway, it fit in fine and I wasn’t left wondering at all.

Coming away from this, I’ll say that the book was definitely endearing. If you are looking for a sweet, easily heartwarming tale with just a hint of emotional depth but nothing overwhelming, this is the book you want to read. But I don’t think it’s one that will stick with me for long. And if you are looking to read Backman, but don’t already feel strongly about which book to pick up first, I’d recommend My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry instead of this one, for sure.

Within this mostly mediocre read, there was one sentiment that really struck me. There’s a section that describes love, that particular relationship with the single most important person in your life, in a way that was a surprising mix of mundane, insightful and completely relatable. So to end, I’d like to share it: “Loving someone is like moving into a house… At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come crashing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren’t actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.” p.305-306″

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