Thursday, September 25, 2014

Book Review: "A Man Called Ove" by Fredrik Backman

This is one of those books you just want to give a hug.

Ove is, to put it mildly, a curmudgeon. He's not a very big fan of people. Or small talk. He believes in consistency, rules, simplicity. In Ove's mind, anything "newfangled" (cellphones, automatic cars, the internet) is unnecessary and just further evidence of how the world is growing lazier by the second. And don't get him started on people who don't obey signs, speed limits, regulations, or just common decency.

"People said he was bitter. Maybe they were right. He'd never reflected much on it. People also called him antisocial. Ove assumed this meant he wasn't overly keen on people. And in this instance he could totally agree with them. More often than not people were out of their minds."

But as we've seen in books and movies galore that feature the angry curmudgeon as its main character (everything from A Christmas Carol to Despicable Me), there's so much more to Ove than meets the eye. He is fiercely devoted to his wife, the one person for whom he'd do anything, even if it was accompanied by some grumbling and complaining. He is firmly rooted in his idea of right and wrong, and will fight the powers that be every way he can if he feels the situation isn't fair or just. But Ove's life is shaped by sadness and tragedy, and his behavior is a reaction to what has occurred around him.

When a new family moves in next door, complete with overly pregnant wife, clumsy husband, and two inquisitive young daughters, their first meeting is somewhat inauspicious—the husband flattens Ove's mailbox and drives into his flowerbed. (Another thing on Ove's list of dislikes: people who can't properly back up trailers.) But as much as Ove glowers and tries to push them away, they keep reaching out to him, they keep asking him for help, and involving themselves in his life—which leads him to (unwillingly) get involved in others' lives as well. And then the principled, fight-for-your-rights Ove comes out yet again.

From the first page, you pretty much know what is going to happen with Ove's character. We've seen it before. But it is a testament to Fredrik Backman's excellent storytelling that you absolutely don't care. This is a sweet, heartwarming book, and although Ove is a familiar character, Backman has made him so complex—and fleshed out his backstory and his reasons for his apparent anger and unwavering adherence to rules and principles so well—that your heart just aches for this man.

I've said numerous times before when writing reviews that I'm a total sap, and that when a book resonates with me emotionally I tend to really enjoy it. A Man Called Ove is definitely one of those books. At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to read a book in which I essentially knew what would happen at the start, but the journey that Backman takes you on is well worth it, even if there are familiar guideposts along the way. I found myself chuckling, and smiling, and even tearing up from time to time, so if a book makes you react in that way, how can you miss?

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