Book: A Man Called Ove
Author: Fredrik Backman
Paperback: 337 pages
This book was originally published in Sweden in 2010, then translated and published in English in 2014, so the paperback copy was readily available. The story has been made into a movie in Swedish with English subtitles, but I read hints on the web that there might be an entirely new American version possibly starring America’s everyman, Tom Hanks!
All that said, the story is about a grump, a grouch called Ove. In his backstory, we are told he was a hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone young man who lost both parents and started working before he finished school. He was definitely a “measure twice cut once” type of guy, exacting and precise in his process, and simple and frugal in his lifestyle. Then, one day, he met the love of his life, a delightful, effervescent young teacher with a sparkling laugh and an engaging personality who actually loved him for who he was. Ove pursued her quietly, and they married and settled in a newly-built community where Ove did his best to make sure everything ran like clockwork and the neighborhood rules were posted and observed.
The story continues describing situations like Ove’s on-again-off-again relationship with his neighbor and a tragic bus accident on a vacation in Spain, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you. Since Ove’s story is told in alternating past and present segments, we learn about the background as the contemporary story continues.
Eventually, a young family moved in next door, and through sheer force of personality and will, at times the young, pregnant wife both admonished and accepted Ove. Let’s just say they learned from each other – Ove just wouldn’t admit it. I found his part of the novel the most engaging. The wife and children next door were able to see through or just ignored the cracks in the hardened exterior of Ove’s personality and slowly were able to have a bit of a positive effect on his outlook.
Over time, Ove’s approach to life and his neighbors softens a bit. And over the course of the novel we begin to understand why he is the way he is and maybe even accept him. So, Ove represents the lovable curmudgeon or the hopeless annoying neighbor, depending on what you bring to the novel.
This book is a relatively easy and quick read. It is widely available and pretty popular. While it is set in Sweden and some local color and Swedish phrases are included, the setting is not critical; this story could happen anywhere, so anyone can imagine these events happening to people they know. The storyline is a bit predictable. and although the main characters are singular and interesting, they are not particularly complicated or multi-dimensional. So, if you’re looking for a nice story for a plane or train trip, or perhaps a lighter read after a heavy novel or a hard day at work, this might be the one for you. It’s a nice story, a little sad in places and funny in others, and it won’t ask you to work too hard.