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A Man Called Ove
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Archived VBC Selections > A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - VBC October 2017

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John (jtb1951) | 549 comments Mod
Welcome to our October discussion selection, A Man Called Ove, the inaugural novel from Swedish blogger and columnist Fredrik Backman. This is a story, which at first blush might appear trivial and apparent, but which unfolds into a tale of teachable moments. Ove is a prototypical grump, a grump of grumps, who only wishes that his world remain solitary, ordered (to his likes) and unchanging (to his standards). His world is turned totally upside down, however, when his new neighbors arrive - a gregarious young couple with their rather boisterous daughters. What ensues is a beautiful tale of disorderly cats, unlikely friendships, and a neighborhood having to completely reexamine their views of the grump which they thought they had all figured out.
One note: you may wish to have the tissues at hand for the close of this book; it contains all the feels!


message 2: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments John wrote: "Welcome to our October discussion selection, A Man Called Ove, the inaugural novel from Swedish blogger and columnist Fredrik Backman. This is a story, which at first blush might appear trivial and..."

I really enjoyed this book. That said, there were several aspects of it that were, if not quite cliches, certainly tropes - gruff old guy with heart of gold, unlettered but good with his hands, brought out of his shell by eccentric cast of characters including adorable children.

However, I'm quite capable of enjoying the ride even if it's pretty clear where we're going to end up, and I certainly needed the tissues at the end.


Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "brought out of his shell by eccentric cast of characters including adorable children.."

I'd argue that he was brought out of his grief rather than his shell. As the story goes on, he seems to have been a compulsively helpful (though still grumpy) person for most of his life.

This book very much reminded me of that Pixar movie "Up". I think it must be the grumpy old man (with a heart of gold) who's lost his wife, but finds new life with neighbor kid. Also maybe a little bit of Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, but less violent (although, I think that's more about the circumstances than the character).

I honestly hadn't realized how much of a trope the "grumpy old man with a heart of gold" was until you mentioned it, Emily!


John (jtb1951) | 549 comments Mod
One of the things I have always found interesting in tropes is that they became tropes for one or more reasons. They often are representations of ideas or themes or character traits that are of general interest or appeal, and have been used in literature (or art, or music, or theatre, etc) successfully many times before. Whether a trope can continue to be used in a fresh and interesting way depends, of course, on the artistic talents involved. I don't know how Fredrik Backman manages to achieve that trick (I guess if I did I might try my hand at writing 😉 - don't hold your breath) but he does manage to evoke a visceral reaction that makes the story a success to me. Just mho.


message 5: by Merrily (new)

Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
John wrote: "One of the things I have always found interesting in tropes is that they became tropes for one or more reasons. They often are representations of ideas or themes or character traits that are of gen..."

And often tropes are tropes because they touch on universal truths. There ARE a lot of grumpy old people (both male and female) who appear that way because they're lonely, or shy, or feel lousy - and sometimes it only takes a little kindness to bring them out of their shells.


message 6: by Emily (last edited Oct 02, 2017 09:54AM) (new)

Emily | 341 comments I wonder, too, if many of us had the experience of having fairly formidable grandparents who were lovely to their grandchildren, so it matches our history.


Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
The other element that makes this story work, of course, is that the new neighbor doesn't seem to be particularly put-off by Ove's gruff attitude. The whole story would have taken a dramatically different turn (and been much shorter!) had the new neighbor taken offense to Ove's tone and let him alone.


message 8: by Emily (last edited Oct 02, 2017 12:36PM) (new)

Emily | 341 comments Erin wrote: "The other element that makes this story work, of course, is that the new neighbor doesn't seem to be particularly put-off by Ove's gruff attitude. The whole story would have taken a dramatically di..."
Yes, that might be one of the reasons it seems like this sort of story often has the children be the contact (like Up - it also reminds me a bit of the Barbara Havers/Hadiyyah subplot in Elizabeth George's novels), because they may be less attuned to social cues and less worried about bothering someone who doesn't want to be bothered.

Also, perhaps the fact that the wife is "foreign" plays a role? I can't help thinking there are cultures that are stereotypically more open and friendly than the Swedes.


John (jtb1951) | 549 comments Mod
As a reminder please try not to post spoilers for the first couple weeks of the month to give everyone some time to read. Please feel free to post anything non-spoilerish whenever!


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Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Kind of funny: I've been sharing this book with everyone because I loved it so much; so well written and I loved all the characters and it gave me all the feels. But I realize I don't have too much to say past that.

I find that I have a lot more to say about a book that bugs me than a book I like, LOL.


message 11: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments I'd be interested in what people think the book indicates about Swedish society and people's relationship with their bureaucracy, but that might be better for later in the month.


message 12: by Erin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Hmm...okay, so safe/non-spoiler question to get started with: What's first impression of Ove?


Antoinette | 186 comments I'm was little nervous to start the book because none of my friends liked it. Your comments have convinced me to give it a try. Thanks.


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Ana Brazil (panab) | 43 comments This story is outside my regular reading habit (historicals & mysteries), but I'm game to read it also. Just got my copy.


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Emily | 341 comments Antoinette wrote: "I'm was little nervous to start the book because none of my friends liked it. Your comments have convinced me to give it a try. Thanks."

Honestly, I'm surprised by this. I would have said it had crowd-pleaser all over it.


Mkotch I'm surprised, too, as almost everyone I know (including me) loved it. It has some fun characters.


message 17: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Straus | 1 comments My sister in law shared this book with me, she was really put off by it and I'm not even sure she finished it. I however found it very funny, even laugh out loud at times. This might be because I have had family members who were gruff and hid a real sense of humor if not heart of gold. I really enjoyed it and while yes I knew where it was probably going to go, I found the ending satisfying and peaceful. All in all a very good book. I see that he has another one out, has anyone read that yet?


message 18: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments My library has several by him, but I haven't liked the others nearly as much - only been interested enough to finish one.


Antoinette | 186 comments I finished Ove last night and I am lukewarm about it. Nothing new, same old story of gruff man with a heart of gold who has a change of heart and befriends lovable neighbors. Lots of stereotypes about gender roles, weepy women, taciturn men, Even more stereotypes about Swedish society, paternalistic, intrusive. No suspense, we all knew how it would end. Writing only mediocre. So it's a feel good story, a nice change from the murder mysteries I usually read. A natural for a book club. I'm ready for November.


Antoinette | 186 comments Erin wrote: "Hmm...okay, so safe/non-spoiler question to get started with: What's first impression of Ove?"

He's a stereotype.


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Ana Brazil (panab) | 43 comments Antoinette wrote: "Erin wrote: "Hmm...okay, so safe/non-spoiler question to get started with: What's first impression of Ove?"

He's a stereotype."


My first thoughts were "he's a normal 59-year old guy with normal 59-year old guy problems & viewpoint."

So maybe he's supposed to be an "everyman" type character?


message 22: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Ana wrote: "Antoinette wrote: "Erin wrote: "Hmm...okay, so safe/non-spoiler question to get started with: What's first impression of Ove?"

He's a stereotype."

My first thoughts were "he's a normal 59-year ol..."


Did you find it realistic that he was so comfortable with homosexuality?


Kathryn (copykat42) | 1 comments I really liked this book.
There certainly are characters who fit stereotypes, but (IMHO, of course...) the author didn't seem to be leaning on them as much as having a little fun with them. Well, mostly...
Suspect i'm biased in favor of this one at least in part b'c of how much it reminded me from the very first page of Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker's series -- the perfect, and perfectly hilarious, summing up of life's everyday frustrations (and delights) as well as having some fun with language (truly impressive that it feels that way even in translation?!).

Oh, right, there was an actual question posed...
I liked getting to know Ove. Just when i thought i had him figured out, there often would be another layer or twist.
(I mean, is there the depth/vibrancy of character or the food for thought found in a Laurie King novel , heck no! But i liked this book on its own merits/level, nonetheless.)


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Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Cindy wrote: "All in all a very good book. I see that he has another one out, has anyone read that yet? "

I finished Britt-Marie Was Here last week, but haven't read his latest one, Beartown. Britt-Marie had the same kind of feel-good vibe as Ove. Focusing on how interpersonal connection and community can be life-changing.


message 25: by Erin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "Did you find it realistic that he was so comfortable with homosexuality?"

He's so focused on small personal affronts, I thought it was pretty believable that he didn't much care about who someone else loved. So long as that person didn't commit any of the crimes he was particularly fixated on. Like parking in the residential area. His reaction didn't strike me as out of character or anything.


message 26: by Erin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Antoinette wrote: "A natural for a book club.."

It's funny you say that! This book totally made me feel all the feels (I absolutely cried on the bus at the ending), but didn't really leave me needing to discuss it. So I would peg it more like an "Oprah" bookclub pick (ie. a book that lots of people can read and enjoy or learn from), but not a good discussion book so much. Because it seems like most people have the same thought about it.

I've been surprised to hear some people actively didn't like the book, though! If you didn't like the book, what didn't you like about it? Was it just the stereotypes, like Antoinette said? Or something else?


message 27: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments The one turn the story took that I found a bit surprising (in a good way) was when I bought the girl an iPad. He was so dismissive of computers all the way through, so to recognize the similarity of his feeling towards cars was interesting.


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Norah Wolthuis (readingaway) | 8 comments The movie is on Amazon Prime right now. I enjoyed it.


message 29: by Erin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Norah wrote: "The movie is on Amazon Prime right now. I enjoyed it."

I didn't even know they made a movie! Cool!


message 30: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments So, I mentioned this above, but I was interested in how his being Swedish intersected with the plot. One can certainly imagine a very similar book set in the U.S., but I was struck by his relationship to the bureaucracy and the rules. I think of Swedish society as being very bureaucratic, but the people also being very happy with it. I suppose complaining about bureaucrats is the natural order of human life, but it was interesting to me that he was such a rule-follower and also so resistant to the people in white coats.


message 31: by Erin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "but it was interesting to me that he was such a rule-follower and also so resistant to the people in white coats."

I think it made sense, though. Because what he disliked about the people in white coats was not their rules, per se; rather that they stripped others of their autonomy and then shrugged it off as "that's the rules." It was clear that they people in white coats didn't actually care about the rules, they just used them to avoid having to really see or care about others. Like the guy driving in the residents area and leaving his cigarette butts everywhere.

I've only read two of Backman's books so far, but both had a theme of resentment of the bureaucracy. Focus on people using "the rules" to persecute others. So perhaps the Swedish people are not actually as happy as they are portrayed?


message 32: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Erin wrote: "I've only read two of Backman's books so far, but both had a theme of resentment of the bureaucracy. Focus on people using "the rules" to persecute others. So perhaps the Swedish people are not actually as happy as they are portrayed? ..."

I read The Almost Nearly Perfect People last winter (I assumed the title was sarcastic, but it's more hyperbolic) and it suggested that overall, Swedes were pretty happy with their system, perhaps to the point of smugness. But resentment at bureaucracy is a basic human tendency, I suppose.

(And to take us really far afield, I also read Black Earth last year, which is about the Holocaust, and one of his points is how a strong bureaucracy reduces the worst excesses of a totalitarian government - Jews in countries where the government collapsed were much worse off than in countries where the government apparatus remained strong. I'm sure this is a controversial theory - I don't know enough to be able to refute it - but I found it very striking.)


message 33: by Erin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
We seem to be petering out early on Ove. Which is surprising and not surprising all at once. It always seems to me that the books that pull on the heart strings and are not really meant to be controversial, are less likely to require much discussion.

Going back to the comment on tropes. I was talking to a friend about this book yesterday about how tropes have become tropes because they resonate with people. So a book containing tropes isn't automatically a terrible thing. It only becomes tiresome when an author uses tropes in place of actual plot or character development. Given that Backman totally made me cry (on the bus/train!!), which I NEVER do, I can't really group this book into the tropes = lazy writing category.


message 34: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Erin wrote: "Going back to the comment on tropes. I was talking to a friend about this book yesterday about how tropes have become tropes because they resonate with people. So a book containing tropes isn't automatically a terrible thing. It only becomes tiresome when an author uses tropes in place of actual plot or character development..."

I think that's fair. After all, the outlines of a mystery story haven't changed a lot since Arthur Conan Doyle - the fun is in seeing what the author does with the structure.

I've also sometimes just had the feeling that I've read the book before, even if it's pretty well-written. More about my life than the quality of the book (or, Jasper Fforde would say, the same bookpeople must be playing the characters!)


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Ana Brazil (panab) | 43 comments I'm still reading & will finish this weekend. One observation: I getting a little irritated by the constant switching between the story and the backstory. Not because it's not a rich, revealing backstory, but because I'm totally into the present day story and want to know how we get to where we're getting (which I'm assuming is that Ove melts into an affectionate person).


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