Review: A Man Called Ove

This novel was a number one bestseller across Scandinavia before it became a New York Times bestseller. It is the first novel of Fredrik Backman, a Swede, who was born in 1981, and who has since written six number one Swedish bestsellers.

Fredrik Backman

The principal character in this novel is Ove, who is impatient with and critical of everyone but the extremely patient and uncritical wife whom he adores. He grudgingly tolerates some neighbours and a cat which adopts him. His preferred adjective is ‘bloody’. Managers and other decision-makers come in for particular censure, because, for him, they are always serving some remote, uncaring system rather than the beneficiaries and customers of the system. He is extremely knowledgeable about all things mechanical, and his favourite occupation is repairing them, with cars and Saabs, in particular, a top interest. Everything, including people, should be orderly and functioning properly. At first, the reader may take a retaliatory dislike of him, but when we learn of his absolute love for his wife, and his somewhat backhanded favours for undeserving neighbours, we begin to accept him. His wife is badly injured and his unborn child is killed during a holiday trip to Spain. Every day he carries his wife to her much-loved teaching job, but she dies prematurely of cancer. To her grave, he brings fresh flowers and talks to her, getting her advice, which he can accurately foresee. He reasons he has had enough of life with its people troubles; he decides on several methods of killing himself so that he can be buried beside his wife and join her in the hereafter. In each instance, however, he is unwitting interrupted by others. When he goes to the train station to throw himself under a train, his intention is diverted by a man who falls onto the tracks and must be rescued by Ove. He unintentionally establishes a friendship with a thirty-year-old Iranian woman, her incompetent husband and her two young, troublesome daughters. When a manager who disregards local parking rules decides that Ove’s long-time enemy, who was once his close friend, should be taken away to a care home because of his dementia, Ove concocts a plan, on behalf of the patient’s greatly distressed wife to thwart the taking into care. Eventually, Ove dies having left detailed instructions for his Iranian neighbour to find and implement. There are three hundred people at Ove’s funeral, a tribute of which Ove himself would not have approved.

Mr Backman’s light-hearted writing makes it easy to smile at Ove’s obsessive attention to correctness, at the reactions of others to this correctness, and the others’ ability to understand Ove’s good intentions. The novel is a happy study of human nature from an unusual perspective.

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