Friday, March 25, 2016
Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch
Ove is living in his small row house in Sweden and trying to kill himself (trust me, it's actually kind of funny.) But events and people keep getting in the way. First a pregnant woman and her giant lumbering oaf of a husband back over his mailbox with a trailer that they can't drive. Ove must fix it. Then the husband, who has borrowed Ove's ladder, proves his ineptness further by falling off of a ladder and the wife and kids need a ride to the hospital. Then, because he is laid up, the wife needs driving lessons. Meanwhile, on his daily rounds in the neighborhood, checking on things, Ove accidentally adopts a cat, and he meets a teenage boy trying (and failing) to fix a bicycle for a girl he likes. Ove has to fix the bicycle because no one can do anything practical for themselves anymore. As Ove accumulates new friends and obligations, the reasons for his suicide attempts start to fade. (And perhaps the pregnant woman has more to do with that than Ove is aware.) Eventually, after years of letting his wife be his link to the world outside their home, he makes connections himself and starts to stretch his rusty socializing skills.
I completely agree with the reviewers who call the book delightful and charming. Yes, Ove is a curmudgeon of the first order, with strong beliefs that his way is not just the right way, but the only way. But eventually he comes to realize that he needs people and he can live with their foibles and that when you are nice to people, they're often nice right back. No man is an island. The book gives hope without being treacly or saccharine about it. That's something I love about curmudgeons. I find their hopefulness much easier to tolerate than earnest and sickly-sweet hope.
I loved this book. It was tender and thoughtful, it was subtle and clever, and it went places I wasn't expecting, yet set them up beautifully so they weren't shocking left-turns. Everyone in book club loved it which is rare. I can see it appealing to a very wide swath or people, and I think I will be recommending it a lot. it was easy to read, and aside from a weird thing in the Swedish health care system (why a neighbor was being forced into a nursing home), nothing about the translation was difficult to understand. I am very glad I read it. It will hold a special place in my heart. I wish I could hug Ove. And his cat.
I borrowed this book from a friend.