Monday, April 5, 2021

Fredrik Backman - A Man Called Ove

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.
Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?
Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.

Comment: Of course I had heard things about this book, it had quite the hype at some point and several of my reading acquaintances/friends have read it or added it to their TBR. I had nothing against it but I wasn't planning on reading it until I saw it was available at my local library. I thought "why not" and brought it with me since it isn't even a big book.

In this sweet story we meet grumpy Ove, an almost 60 year old Swedish man who is angry at having been told to "take things easy" and to "take time to rest" at work, making him practically unemployed or retired, he can't exactly say, but he does have a lot of time now. He is known for his adherence to rules, to maintain routines and a steady eye on everything that happens in the neighborhood. However, he has a secret, he is planning on committing suicide, because without his work he feels he has no reason to keep going, even more so since his beloved wife has died and he is al alone. The problem is to actually have the time for it, because it seems everyone and everything gets on his way, in particular the new neighbors, who can't seem to function without his help...

I agree this is a sweet story. It was easy to read, fluid, the writing style mostly appealing and I liked how Ove and the other characters would be going on with their lives but, more or less in alternate chapters, we also have glimpses of events which happened in the past. These things are told in small installments, let's say so, and that allows the reader to start guessing reasons for certain behaviors, choices, etc.

The book isn't too long so it was a relatively quick read and one quite easy to read, I turned the pages eagerly too, for the simplicity of the story made it possible to understand what was going on and that is, basically, the fact Ove is a man who has no time for excuses nor for the things he deems illogical but he is a tender and honorable man, who is there when it is really necessary. The dichotomy between who he seems to be and who he really is was well done by the author, and "discovering" the little things about Ove was a wonderful experience.

One could say the book mentions several issues related to how society is nowadays and the relationships between people. The action takes place n Sweden but I think what is said can be universally recognized and can make one think. I wouldn't go as far as to say the author wanted to prove some kind of argument but it is true there's a very thin line between what is perceived as "private issues vs "none of one's business" and how we see these things everywhere. However, how much less fun this could be if Ove were to be by himself as easily as he could?

There are moments in Ove's past which are, indeed, unfair and sad. There are others where he was able to maintain his values and views in detriment of his own benefit. I can't help but be in awe of someone who can do it all the time (I'm not talking about life and death scenarios here) and this makes Ove someone really special, even though he isn't a friendly person. At the same time, how unlikely it would be for this story to happen, there were some scenes I found a little too convenient and embracing many current issues, which, again, the author was able to insert apparently easily. 

I also found that some situations were a little "staged" for us to have the best effect off them but I don't think this distracts the reader too much from the good things or the sweet, poignant ones.

Of course this won't work for everyone but it worked for me and I had a good time reading. There are some passages on getting older, on time passing by that are quite to the point, after all most of us will, indeed, get old and face new realities. I see there's a movie, I'll try to watch it when it airs on TV.

Grade: 8/10

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