A Man Called Ove
Publisher: Atria Books; Reprint edition (July 15, 2014)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
First Publication: The novel was first published in Sweden in 2012. The English translation was published in 2013.
Theme: Memory and Grief, Love, Family, Principles, Loyalty
What do I say that has already not been said about the book? The fact that Beckmann wrote the novel on readers’ demand after his blogs became popular says a lot about Ove and his world.
Ove is somebody we’ve all known. His principles, work ethic, and no-nonsense attitude make him stand out. But what hides beneath the surface makes him endearing. His kind caring ways, his endless love for his wife, his memories of his mother singing on the porch, and his father’s steadfast silent ways.
The book’s introduction sequence with Ove haggling with a computer salesperson sets the tone. Beckmann only takes it several notches higher as we peek and delight in Ove’s thoughts and his life. Take, for instance, the opening lines-
“Ove is fifty-nine. He drives a Saab. He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s torch.”
The narrative shifts between Ove’s childhood and his present life as an old man living alone in Sweden, sketching the reason behind Ove’s outlook, responses, and patterns one chapter at a time. The readers are familiarized with Sonja, his late wife, who died six months back from the present timeline. Sonja exuded all the color, chaos, and control in Ove’s life and formed the bedrock of his existence. Bereft of her, Ove feels empty, wronged, and at an all-time low. So much so that he decides to take a step unthinkable for someone as sane and reasonable as him. But again, the way he methodically wraps his matters to a logical end (according to him) sets him apart from the crowd. It also makes him genial and tender in a convoluted way.
Ove turns a corner with the arrival of new Iranian neighbors. Much to his annoyance, mayhem follows, and other people he would’ve avoided at any cost in normal circumstances get added to the mix. Picture a grumpy grandpa forced to hobnob with people he finds vexing to an extreme degree. There is always something wrong with them, prompting Ove to name them according to their irksome characteristics.
Chuckle-worthy anecdotes follow as Ove steps out of his melancholy, finds a purpose, and even adopts an opinionated cat.
Ove’s wry sense of humor, irate undertone, and hilarious aliases for the characters elevate the narrative on several levels and keep it light and jaunty. The underlying intense emotions, grief, resentments, and regrets tug at your heartstrings but never get overwhelming. Backman sprinkles magic in a regular, day-to-day story, tucking layers of sentiments and wit together.
You can’t but fall in love with this testy old man, Ove. It is one of those books that finds a universal audience and touches every reader in some way or the other.
Can’t recommend it enough. A must-read!
About the author:
A man Called Ove is Swedish author Fredrik Backman’s debut novel. Many publishers rejected the manuscript of this book before it saw the light of the day. The book was translated into English and published in the US in 2013. The novel is a commercial success—It has been translated into 38 languages and sold over a million copies. It was also adapted into a stage play and a movie in 2015.
Backman has authored several other books, including My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and Britt-Marie Was Here.
Read more about Fredrik Backman.