Shane's Reviews > A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
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A quaint story, a feel-good one, guaranteed to be a bestseller.

Ove is a 59-year old widower who has recently lost his beloved wife and just been fired from his job. But Ove is more than just in this predicament; he is the quintessential old-timer: cantankerous, honest to a fault, reluctant to change, who sees things in black and white, who hates the 21st century and the next generation—“Nowadays shopping on credit and driving electric cars and hiring tradesmen to change a light bulb. Laying click-on floors and fitting electric fireplaces and carrying on. A society that apparently could not see the difference between the correct plug for a concrete wall and a smack in the face. No one could change tyres. Install a dimmer switch. Lay some tiles. Plaster a wall. Submit their own tax accounts.” Ove swears by Saab cars and considers all others makes inferior and a betrayal of good automobile engineering. He hates people who ignore traffic signs. He laments the loss of the simple things in life: “a roof over your head, a quiet street, the right make of car, a woman to be faithful to, a job where you had a proper function, a house where things broke at regular intervals so you always had something to tinker with.” He is a man looking to end it all by committing suicide.

Ove also has a love-hate relationship with Rune, his old friend who moved into the neighbourhood with him before it became a sprawling housing development. Rune buys Volvo while Ove buys Saab, their wives get pregnant at the same time, they are on the Residents’ Association and have divergent views on lawn care, winter maintenance, perimeter security and other concerns of a small community. When Rune upgrades to a BMW, war breaks out between the two friends. But tragedy also stalks them: Rune’s son vanishes off to America the moment he hits twenty, and Ove’s baby miscarries when his wife Sonja has an accident while on holiday in Spain. Rune is heading towards Alzheimer’s, and Sonja has succumbed to cancer after spending a lifetime in a wheelchair when the novel opens.

Ove spares no avenues to commit suicide, including methods such as hanging, inhaling carbon monoxide, jumping in front of a train, overdosing on sedatives and shooting himself with his hunting rifle. But his attempts are thwarted by his interfering neighbours who pop over at the most inconvenient times. In particular, the Iranian woman, Parvaneh, pregnant with her third child, is an overbearing but affectionate presence in his life, and the stray cat that takes up residence in Ove’s house begin to show him that, perhaps, life is still worth living. And yet, for querulous man such as Ove, re-engagement with life is necessary, and re-engagement comes in the form of the “white shirts,” government employees who are trying to take Rune away to a nursing home. A fight is in the offing, and fighting has always kept Ove alive.

The chapters read like linked short stories, involving pedestrian incidents happening in the neighbourhood: a fall off a ladder, a visit to the hospital, a driving lesson, a visit to a coffee shop, a child’s party. These events are interspersed with Over’s suicide attempts and his patrolling of the neighbourhood, an old habit acquired when he was president of the Residents’ Association. I wondered why almost every chapter had to begin with “A man called Ove...”

The ending is predictable and all loose ends are tied up, vaulting this book immediately into the feel-good category. The take-away for me is that there is an Ove lurking inside all of us as we age.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
December 10, 2018 – Shelved
December 10, 2018 – Finished Reading

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