A Man called Ove – Fredrik Backman: Book Review by Asha Seth

Author: Fredrik Backman | Genre: Humor | Pages: 337 | Publisher: Atria Books

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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. 

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Often in life, we meet people who we detest right from the very first moment we set eyes on them. Either their attitude, behavior, the way they talk, laugh, or maybe it’s just the way they look that sets you off. And try as one might, these uncommoners remain wedged in our memories and swim up to the surface every now and then. Ove is one such man.

We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.

When 59 year old Ove’s wife Sonja passes away, he has no heart to carry on which is why he brings flowers to his wife’s grave regularly whilst also attempting to end his own life, his attempts being thwarted by trivial requests from his newly-arrived neighbors. Ove loves living alone, not being disturbed, and pretty much leaves the world to itself, except his timely interferences to assure law and order, armed by his own rigid rules and principles. As a character, Ove is a strong portrayal of those who lose the will to go on once their significant others have passed away and can hardly stand another day. Ove is full of it and struggling tenfold to reunite with his dead wife. It’s this bitter fact of life that has made Ove grumpy; among other things.

She just smiled, said that she loved books more than anything, and started telling him excitedly what each of the ones in her lap was about. And Ove realised that he wanted to hear her talking about the things she loved for the rest of his life.

The other character Parvaneh, the pregnant neighbor, is also uniquely portrayed. Even though at the start Ove is his usual self around her, gradually, Ove softens up on Parvaneh, and the bond they share is simply adorable. The characters in this novel have been brilliantly portrayed and they stay with you long after you’re done reading. The credit partly goes to the writing too here.

Something inside a man goes to pieces when he has to bury the only person who ever understood him. There is no time to heal that sort of wound.

Narrated from a third person perspective, the story keeps flitting between present and past, revealing more of Ove’s life and why he is the way he is. Engaging, humorous, charming, and slick, the prose is an example of a practiced hand at work. It flows seamlessly with no loose ends, turning the reader from an Ove-despiser to Ove-admirer through the main character’s rather unbelievable transformation. You’ll be surprised at how you start to like this man who loves to complain, shoo cats away, shout at cops, intimidate locals, but also has a heart of gold inside. And that’s what sets him apart truly.

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‘A Man called Ove’ is a lovely little book about love, loss, grief, interspersed with life lessons and sharp wisdom that become highlights of the book. Easy to read, even easier to remember, A Man called Ove is a book that just stays there without so much as asking for attention and yet you are dazzled by its subtle glamor and before you know you are reading it, falling inexplicably in love with it. And finally, I feel it teaches us that all the people who seem difficult humans, need more of our love and kindness, not judgement and hatred. After all, as it is said,

Be kind. Everyone’s fighting a battle that you don’t know about.

Have you read ‘A Man called Ove’? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.

Happy reading till we meet next. Until then, carpe diem! 

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