Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Atria: 7/15/14
eBook review copy; 352 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781476738017

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is a very highly recommended heart-warming and heart-breaking novel that I sobbed while reading, yet adored every word. Ove is a curmudgeon with a plan that the darn people in his neighborhood keep interrupting.

Ove, 59, has just been informed that he is being forced into retirement "'Won’t it be nice to slow down a bit?' they said to Ove yesterday at work. While explaining that there was a lack of employment prospects and so they were 'retiring the older generation'. A third of a century in the same workplace, and that’s how they refer to Ove. Suddenly he’s a bloody 'generation'. Because nowadays people are all thirty-one and wear too-tight trousers and no longer drink normal coffee."

As he has done for almost four decades, Ove is continuing to make coffee the right way, and go on his daily early morning inspections of the neighborhood at 5:50 AM to make sure everything is in order and the rules are being followed. After all, the rules are there for a reason and there is no reason to stay in bed all day and not follow them. Ove won't have to worry about this much longer because he has a plan.

As he is getting out his box of useful stuff to make preparations, he looks out his window: "The poser is jogging. Not that Ove is provoked by jogging. Not at all. Ove couldn’t give a damn about people jogging. What he can’t understand is why they have to make such a big thing of it. With those smug smiles on their faces, as if they were out there curing pulmonary emphysema. Either they walk fast or they run slowly, that’s what joggers do. It’s a forty-year-old man’s way of telling the world that he can’t do anything right. Is it really necessary to dress up as a fourteen-year-old Romanian gymnast in order to be able to do it? Or the Olympic tobogganing team? Just because one shuffles aimlessly round the block for three quarters of an hour?"

Well, none of this will matter soon. And then the new neighbors scrap the side of his house, stop in his flowerbed, and knock down his mailbox while trying to back a trailer into their driveway when it is clearly marked that motor vehicles are not allowed in the area. Ove doesn't know what he's getting into when he meets the couple, Parvaneh and Patrick, and their two daughters. What he does know is that he misses his beloved wife, Sonia, and is ready to go meet her. "People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was colour. All the colour he had." But all his careful plans keep getting interrupted by one neighborhood crisis after another.

I love this book. It is poignant and sad, yet hilariously funny. Chapters alternate between the past and the present as the background and true character of Ove is slowly revealed. Backman has a simple writing style that grants his work a fable-like quality. He cleverly captures the contrast of Ove's few words and his actions, and slowly reveals Ove's past. The pacing is perfect. In the end, there are good feelings and hugs and chocolate all around, even for those who seem to be unlovable, because sometimes you have to look beyond a person's words to see their heart. It is how one person can make a difference. It encourages us to overlook a person's flaws and accept them as they are. You will feel Ove's pain and sadness, but also you will be sending him warm wishes and good thoughts. Even though there are parts that are heartbreaking, it is, at its core, an uplifting, hopeful book. 

(Two drawbacks: I couldn't take this book along to read at work on breaks because I could be reduced to a sobbing mess at any moment, and, come-on, 59 is not that old.)

 Disclosure: My digital reading copy was courtesy of the publisher

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My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry


Rebecca said...

59??!! I keep meaning to read this and from the description, I gathered he was 80 or 90. Ha! Oh dear, I guess - I guess I should be getting a walker any day now.
Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
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Lori L said...

I thought the same thing... I guess I have a couple good years left!