A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: A review
The man called Ove is fifty-nine years old and all he wants in life is to die. His sole purpose for living, the only thing he truly loved, left his world six months before when his wife of almost forty years, Sonja, died.
Ove is a man for whom life is black or white. There is a right way and a wrong way of doing things. Ove adheres to the right way, the way his father taught him. His ambition is to be as little different from his father as is possible. Most of the rest of the world does things the wrong way and this makes Ove the irascible man that people see him to be.
Sonja saw the world in bright hues. She was interested in the people around her and lived to make their lives better. She was a teacher who was assigned to teach ADHD children "before ADHD was invented." She took to her job with passion and belief in the children's ability to learn. She got them to read Shakespeare.
Sonja loved cats. Ove didn't.
Ove and Sonja had lived in the same neighborhood, the same house, since their marriage. Ove was known as the curmudgeonly neighbor who everyone saw as a bitter man. Sonja was the loving woman who everyone loved in return. And Ove loved her, too. He lived for her.
And then she died.
We get to know Ove in a series of vignettes from his life. Each chapter of the book is a separate vignette. They might almost be a series of short stories, but, taken together, they give us the full picture of a man called Ove. We learn that tragedies in his and Sonja's lives gave him every excuse for being bitter.
As we meet him, Ove has made the decision to end it all and join his beloved Sonja underground. He makes repeated attempts to fulfill his aim, but inconvenient life keeps interrupting him.
His most inconvenient interruption comes when a new family moves in next door; the "Lanky One," a Swedish man, and his very pregnant Iranian wife and their two young daughters. They accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox in the process of moving in and, from then on, their lives are inextricably intertwined as Ove grudgingly shows the Lanky One the right way to back up a trailer and the right way to do other things around the house. Even as he struggles to evade their clutches, the wife, Parvaneh, continues to seek him out and treat him as a friend and the children see him, and draw him, as a man of many bright colors.
This quirky novel, the debut of Fredrik Backman, was first published in Sweden in 2012, to very little notice, but it became a sleeper hit, and since then it has been translated into 38 languages (one of which, fortunately, was English) and it has become something of an international sensation. The New York Times called it one of the most popular literary exports since Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It could not be more different from than dark thriller.
This is a sunny and hopeful book. It was a wonderful choice for my Thanksgiving week reading. Is it great literature? Probably not, but I loved it! I often found myself laughing out loud and then a few minutes later my cheeks would be wet with tears. It combines hilarity and poignancy in a marvelous cocktail of emotional reading.
Of many favorite moments in the book, one that resonated deeply with me was Sonja's explanation of the evolution of a long relationship.
"Loving someone is like moving into a house," Sonja used to say. "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 rushing 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."Yes, exactly. How could I not love this book?
My rating: 5 of 5 stars