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.
With A Man Called Ove, I found myself laughing a lot—because of Ove’s droll observations and the awkward situations he found himself dealing with—and smiled at the nicknames he gave everyone in his neighbourhood, including the mangy cat. And even found myself shaking my head in wonder, when the seemingly innocent act of drilling a hole in the ceiling turns out to be a lot more than, well, drilling a hole in the ceiling.
There is so much more going on in Ove’s life, that trickles in through those first few chapters which, by the end, make you sit up and realise what’s really going on. And just why there is no colour left in Ove’s life anymore.
“Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for the living… For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.
All people at root are time optimists. We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.
People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But he was color. All the color he had.”
Poignant, funny, uplifting and yes, at times, heartbreakingly sad, Ove has lived a simple life that’s anything but simple. In that the challenges he’s had to overcome, and the people—good and bad—that have shaped and moulded the boy through to the man that he becomes, all become part of the very cleverly written backstory. From Ove’s interactions with his father, through to the loving relationship he has with his wife, Sonja, and how they met and fell in love.
But it’s in the present we see how Ove’s life slowly transforms through the interactions with his friends and neighbours. Flawed people who make mistakes, argue (a lot) and drive Ove nuts yet, who at times, also touch Ove deeply in ways even he never expected — especially his next door neighbour, Parvaneh and her two young daughters. And even though Ove tells these people exactly what he thinks of them, they still manage to be there and to rally round, and change a grumpy old man’s life, in ways he never expected all for the better.
A Man Called Ove is an immensely enjoyable read and one you will not easily forget. Certainly, it touched me deeply. And, if you haven’t jumped in already and read a Backman novel then, may I humbly suggest you give Ove a go, you won’t regret it.
A MAN CALLED OVE
Paperback, 294 pages
Contemporary | Humour