I know it doesn’t work but I’m going to say it shamelessly anyway – I loved this book.
I first came across Backman through his second novel, My Grandmother Sends her Regards and Apologises, which was very much an optimistic and feel good read. A Man Called Ove is similar, although I would say it’s slightly darker and carries with it more black comedy. Also the protagonists are different, in My Grandmother, the protagonist is a young child, whilst A Man Called Ove centres on an old man. Kudos to Backman, in both instances, he pulls off wonderful and entertaining perspectives.
A Man Called Ove is a novel that concerns itself with heartache, grief, and bad luck and manages to turn each up on their side. Ove, a very grumpy man, is in his sixties and has already lived the better half of his life. Ove’s loved one is gone and the loss hits him hard, unable-to-move-on hard. Countless times, Ove tries to end his life to reunite with his love, but motives are not always put into action, whether through the self or outside influences.
First of all, I have never related to a an old man more than I have with Ove. Ove is a complex character to say the least. He’s a creature of habit, which is what makes him happy. He likes to feel useful and is very independent, which shows itself through his passion for house construction. If his habits are disturbed though, all hell breaks loose. He’ll hide his heart beneath his grumpiness and aloofness, but deep down he’s a big marshmallow. Whenever these little moments appeared when Ove’s tender side came out, like putting drawings on his fridge, I gushed so much.
Weirdly enough, I empathised with Ove’s experiences of grief too. Fairly recently, one of my best friends moved to a different continent, and funnily enough, this is her favourite book. Reading this, I kinda imagined which parts she’d like and what would make her laugh, in the same sense Ove imagines what his beloved would say or do in certain instances in his day.
What I really enjoyed in this story is a close-knit sense of community Backman created. Parveneh and her happy little family were lovely, reading about them made me feel like a part of their family too, and each character was very distinct and had unique quirks, like Patrick, who kinda reminded me of the Patrick in SpongeBob – overly happy and very dopey. I don’t claim to know anything about Swedish culture, but if Swedish communities are any bit at all like Ove’s, I think the UK has some work to do.
One of the focuses of the novel was Ove’s love for Sonja. Backman was brilliant at writing the way they met. Each chapter only ever gave a snippet of their history and it made me so curious and eager to read on. Ove and Sonja’s relationship is the kind you hear about from grandparents married for years and see in the smiles of black and white Polaroids. Their relationship is a low fuss yet deep and wonderful bond. Some of the best writing, which really touched me revolved around their love:
“To love someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love in everything new, you wonder every morning that this is one’s own, as if they are afraid that someone will suddenly come tumbling through the door and say that there has been a serious mistake and that it simply was not meant to would live so fine. But as the years go by, the facade worn, the wood cracks here and there, and you start to love this house not so much for all the ways it is perfect in that for all the ways it is not. You become familiar with all its nooks and crannies. How to avoid that the key gets stuck in the lock if it is cold outside. Which floorboards have some give when you step on them, and exactly how to open the doors for them not to creak. That’s it, all the little secrets that make it your home. “
And this part, it reeled me right in from the beginning:
“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.“
I finished this book literally weeping. It captures life in such an authentic and emotional way, and shows that little kindnesses can mean everything to a stranger, to a neighbour, to a friend. I’m giving it every star it deserves.
Header Image: Todd Quackenbush