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A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman


I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this book. Such a quick, heart-warming read. It’s one of those books that makes you sad that it’s ended. I glided through the book like a hot knife through butter: it was so easy to read and so entertaining, I devoured it in a couple of days.

At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet. He thinks himself surrounded by idiots – joggers, neighbours who can’t reverse a trailer properly and shop assistants who talk in code.

But isn’t it rare, these days, to find such old-fashioned clarity of belief and deed? Such unswerving conviction about what the world should be, and a lifelong dedication to making it just so?

In the end, you will see, there is something about Ove that is quite irresistible…

“Irresistible” is definitely correct. Ove’s grumpiness is irresistibly funny. Everybody has met an Ove, or has an Ove, in their lives. If you’ve ever worked in retail like I have, you almost certainly have come across one of Ove’s contemporaries. But this book gives such a refreshing angle on the subject. Yes, he’s grumpy. Yes, he has a temper and gets aggressive. But why? What has made him this way? What exactly is it that he has against the world?

He knew very well that some people thought he was nothing but a grumpy old sod without any faith in people. But, to put it bluntly, that was because people had never given him reason to see it another way.

Because a time comes in all men’s lives when they decide what sort of men they’re going to be: the kind that lets other people walk all over them, or not.

This book will probably make you think again about anyone you’ve come across and thought, “What have I ever done to them to make them so grumpy?” A Man Called Ove asks the question: “What has the world done to them to make them so grumpy?” People are products of their environment and their pasts. Ove is an example of this. At the beginning of the book, I’d quite happily have given him a slap. At the end of the book, all I wanted to do was hug the ‘grumpy old sod’ and tell him everything is going to be OK.

The book is full of wonderful and funny characters – Jimmy, the overweight neighbour with a meaningful history intertwined with Ove’s, the family next door who take an unlikely shine to him; the young gay (or “bent”, as Ove so unashamedly describes him) teenager who Ove takes in and protects; the nasty and abusive young woman in high heels who terrorises Ove’s cat, and of course the cat itself, which Ove sees as a massive burden. The next-door neighbours Rune and Anita who are both his best friends and worst enemies, depending on what year it is. There is also of course Ove’s wife Sonja, and the way the narrative takes you on the journey of their marriage is unbelievably touching and sweet.

The book gives an indication as to why the people in Ove’s life overlook his moodiness, and gives us a glimpse of the loveable man underneath the frown. For example, his wife Sonja sees a different side to him:

But to Sonja, Ove was never dour and awkward and sharp-edged. To her, he was the slightly dishevelled pink flowers at their first dinner. He was his father’s slightly too tight-fighting brown suit across his broad, sad shoulders. He believed so strongly in things: justice and fair play and hard work and a world where right just had to be right. Not so one could get a medal or a diploma or a slap on the back for it, but just because that was how it was supposed to be. Not many men of his kind were made any more, Sonja had understood.

Ove is a moral character – he believes in right and wrong, in working hard, in following rules, and not expecting too much or acting above one’s station. There is no room for compromise in his eyes. And today’s society is a disgrace. People don’t want to work any more. People don’t know how to look after themselves any more. He’s had to fend for himself and learn most things from scratch to get by. How can people nowadays be so idle and so incapable of understanding black and white and right and wrong?

Ultimately, Ove is grumpy because of what is done to him. The world and its toughness and harshness shapes Ove into what he is. I won’t go into what happens to him in his life, as that would be a major spoiler. What I can tell you is that the story of his life is hilarious, sweet, tragic, heart-breaking, angering, touching. The story of his life, as so fantastically narrated by Fredrik Backman, justifies the grumpy-old-sodness that is Ove. And it makes the reader understand him and love him. Many of us have faced what Ove’s had to face at some point, but events have different effects on different people.

But everywhere, sooner or later, he was stopped by men in white shirts and strict, smug expressions on their faces. And one couldn’t fight them. Not only did they have the state on their side, they were the state. 

The book is light on plot but heavy in character development, and it’s a perfect balance here. Some books need a very strong plot line to work, but I don’t think A Man Called Ove suffers because of this at all. It is funny and really tugs at your heartstrings. Ove and his neighbours are some of my favourite characters that I’ve read to date. I would recommend this book to absolutely anyone.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Leave a comment in the box below!

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