I made a spectacle of myself when I finished A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I was on the bus and read the final page a minute before my stop. I was crying. There was snot involved. As I got up to get off the bus, I called out my usual “Thank you!” to the bus driver and it came out as a strangled, choked cry. Because of the tears. And snot. And I couldn’t see properly through all those tears and I stumbled down the bus steps like an absolute lunatic. So yes, A Man Called Ove is really, really good.
It’s a simple story, centered around cranky old Ove. He’s described as a man who “…checks the status of all things by giving them a good kick” and carries himself “…in that particular way of a middle-aged man who expects the worthless world outside to disappoint him.” Not surprisingly, Ove is very set in his ways –
“It was thirteen years since Ove bought his blue Saab 9-5 Estate. Not long after, the Yanks at General Motors bought up the last Swedish-held shares in the company. Ove closed the newspaper that morning with a long string of swear words that continued into a good part of the afternoon. He never bought a car again.”
A new family move in next door to Ove, disrupting his staid life. I won’t say much more about the plot than that but know that there’s a cat, bloody BMW-drivers, an altercation with a clown, large pieces of electrified sheet metal, a trailer and the purchase of a ‘computer’. Is that sounding like orchestrated mayhem? For the briefest moment, A Man Called Ove strays into being a comedy of errors but somehow Backman pulls it back from the brink, balancing humourous dialogue with scenes that are so touching, so beautifully sentimental that you wonder how you can be having #ALLTHEFEELINGS over such plain and simple prose.
“It’s a strange thing, becoming an orphan at sixteen. To lose your family long before you’ve had time to create your own to replace it. It’s a very specific sort of loneliness.”
“Either they walk fast or they run slowly, that’s what joggers do. It’s a forty-year-old man’s way of telling the world that he can’t do anything right.”
“It’s difficult to admit that one is wrong. Particularly when one has been wrong for a very long time.”
There’s a predictability about the story that some people will be quick to criticise. Fair enough, but I think that all the very best fables have an element of predictability that steers us through good and evil, right and wrong. A Man Called Ove is not billed as a fable, but it handles big , fable-esque (*new word*) themes such as old versus young, and life and death with delicacy, humour and charm.
4/5 Everyone needs Ove.
I received my copy of A Man Called Ove from the publisher, Hachette Australia, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Ove is presented with a meal of saffron rice and chicken. He feigns indifference (but actually enjoys it). Try this recipe for Crispy Chicken and Saffron Rice (all cooked in one pan – yay) from Tastes Lovely.