Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (2014)

It seems everyone has been raving about this book - and Backman's other books - for quite a while now, but I never paid much attention for some reason. Then I realized it was supposed to be an uplifting heartwarming story about a quirk curmudgeon, which sounds exactly like the sort of thing I'd read.

As you may have gathered from the title, it's about a man who is named Ove. He is a widower who is very set in his ways, and makes it his business to patrol his neighborhood (he lives somewhere in Sweden) to ensure nobody is breaking any rules and he thinks anyone who doesn't drive a Saab is an idiot. When the story opens, a new family is moving into a nearby house and much of the story is his association with this people who are determined to be his friends, even though he is incredibly rude to them. Also, he keeps trying to commit suicide but is always interrupted, often by his new neighbor Parvanah who, unlike her husband, is not a complete idiot. Ove sort of grudgingly likes her. Oh, and there's a cat who keeps hanging around who Ove also grudgingly likes, mostly because he wife Sonja loved cats and literally the only thing in the world that it seems he has ever loved was his wife.

Everything I've read about this book talks about how heartwarming and uplifting it is. It's even on a list of "Books on the bright side" that we made at work (well, it was, I've taken it off.) I did not find it to be terribly uplifting. Ove's backstory is sad and tragic and he doesn't know how to relate with people and seems to not ever feel any feelings except for his wife, and their story wasn't an especially happy one either. Plus he literally keeps trying to kill himself through most of the book. So yes, eventually things get better for him and he makes connections with people but at the risk of being a bit spoilery, it doesn't have a very happy ending. So I have rather mixed feelings. It's a good book, but not what I expected it to be. I like dark and sad books, but went into this expecting this happy, uplifting story I got neither of those things.

The writing style is the clever, witty sort that I do really like. Here's an example early on, about one of Ove's neighbors:

"The Blond Weed, Ove calls her. Tottering around the streets like an inebriated panda on heels as long as box wrenches, with clown paint all over her face and sunglasses so big that one can't tell whether they're a pair of glasses or some kind of helmet."

That's sort of how it all sounds, exaggerated and satirical, and I liked it because I was delightfully surprised at how everything was described. And I'll admit, I did not necessarily disagree with some of Ove's views of things, which maybe makes me a curmudgeon too.

He was a great character in some ways. The story goes back and forth between present day and his earlier life, and he had a hard upbringing. But he took his father's lessons to heart and has always been a person of strong principles. He may be abrupt with people, but his sense of right and wrong is unwavering, which is what really matters when you get down to it. I felt sort of sad that his wife was really the only light in his life. I have no idea why this woman actually wanted to be with him to be honest, but it can't have been easy for her. He seemed like he was missing a lot in his life. He didn't seem to really enjoy anything, and much of the time just used routines to get through his days. I think he had some happiness, but it was so very limited.

My feelings are obviously very mixed. Have you read this? Or other books by Backman? What did you think?

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