Saturday, February 13, 2016

"A Man Called Ove," by Fredrik Backman

My friend F. recommended “A Man Called Ove” (Washington Square Press, 2015), the first novel by the young (34-year-old) Swedish author Fredrik Backman. I had not heard of it, although subsequently I noticed that it was on some bestseller lists. I read and enjoyed it; it is a good read, and although too blatantly aiming to be “heartwarming,” it is in fact heartwarming, and I admit to slightly tearing up a couple of times while reading it, simultaneously laughing at myself for being so easily manipulated. This is the story of an older man, Ove, who has recently been widowed; he is mourning his beloved wife, Sonja, who had been the center of his universe. Ove is the definition of rigid, grumpy, and curmudgeonly. However (predictably for this kind of novel), he is also a moral, honest, and good man at heart, and while downplaying or even hiding it, and grumbling all the way, he helps many people. He learned from his father how to behave in the world, and he follows those principles the rest of his life. But because he misses Sonja so much, and then lost his job (since although he was an excellent worker, he wasn’t willing or able to change with the times), he has decided to end his life in order to join Sonja in the afterlife. (My telling you this is not a spoiler, as the plot point is introduced very early on.) But every time he plans to do this, something happens with one of his neighbors or someone else that demands his attention and assistance, and he reluctantly postpones his suicide. Through these various episodes, he grows closer to old friends and neighbors, and new ones; they form a mutually supportive community of sorts. Although never actually admitting that these people have become important to him, almost like an extended family, the reader can see his heart thawing. The story is charming, but it is just a bit too self-consciously so. Despite this, as I said, I enjoyed it. It is a quick read as well.
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