A Man Called Ove is a book published in August 2012 in Sweden. The author, Fredrik Backman is Swedish (duh), and the book’s setting is naturally in Scandinavia (one can convincingly infer it is definitely in Sweden, although I can’t quite recall if it was directly mentioned or easily deduced). From what I can find looking around the internet, it would appear that the translated English version — by Henning Koch, who is an author himself and also hails from Sweden; has lived in other European cities like London, Barcelona, and Sardinia — was published in 2014 (paperbacks came out 2015).
As the title obviously suggests, Ove is the central character of the story. He is presented as an ill-tempered man, set on his ways and habits, and will absolutely not deviate from it, modern technology be damned. He feels that all new technology is hogwash; things worked well and better the old way, and everyone else around him is an idiot.
“One should not go through life as if everything was exchangeable.”
That, in a nutshell, is Ove.
It’s hard to write what I think about the book without spoiling it, because the greatest reason why I found it relatable was the aspect of having a married partner. Otherwise, it’s an easy-read book, with a prose that is effortless to run through. Despite that, I admittedly had trouble finishing this as quickly as I expected myself to do so. I’m not too sure if it was because of the holiday distractions, but I definitely found it was not difficult to put it down, and it was easy to jump back into it as well.
Aside from Ove and his wife, his neighbors are the other characters you’d meet often as you read the book. One of the ladies in the book club found it hard to keep track of them, but I did not have the same trouble. The author paced his introduction of them quite well, so you could remember something about each whenever they get mentioned again. I found the neighbors were quite amusing and liked ‘seeing’ them whenever they came up to interact with Ove.
Ove, despite appearing unlikable, seems like a dear old man if you get to know him more. I did find his character a bit of a caricature though; a typical advanced aged grouser who is gruff but is actually sweet as toffee inside. Ove’s ending gave me mixed feelings — I was happy for him, but sad because of the loss. Some bits appear haphazardly tied up though; for instance, after the big hoo-ha with Ove’s neighbors Rune and Anita, they just disappeared after it was resolved. It was like the plot was building up to something, except I feel like I missed when it reached its crescendo and it just ebbed towards the end.
Everyone in the book club found it quite uninspired; I thought it was decent enough, mostly because of Ove’s situation. It made me think of growing old with my husband, and how things (and I) could be. It’s a far cry from how people seem to have raved it enormously however, as I don’t think it was that striking of a book. It’s not a terrible read, but I was just not wow-ed by it.
“One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead.”
– Fredrik Backman (A Man Called Ove)
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Have you read other books by Swedish authors? I’ve read Stieg Larsson, which was brilliant, and I heard Jonas Jonasson has written some good ones as well.