A Man Called Ove

Ove is a crotchety older man. Every morning, very early, he walks around the neighborhood, making sure nothing is out of place, or has been stolen. Ove hates when people do not follow the rules, like parking vehicles in the residential area. He makes coffee for himself, and coffee for his wife every morning. Ove has a strict schedule, one he keeps to religiously.

Ove lives by himself, though not by choice. He lost his wife unexpectedly. His wife was as much his opposite as could be: she loved being around people, watching them in cafe’s. She loved to go for spontaneous drives in the country. Sophie loved to laugh. She loved life. She lived her life to the fullest. Ove has a plan, one that will reunite him with his wife: he will kill himself. But he keeps getting interrupted, he keeps getting thwarted by the people around him. Part of the reason he gets interrupted is because he gets new neighbors: Patrick, his wife Parvaneh, and their two–soon to be three–children.

Parvaneh quickly figures out that Ove means to kill himself, and without mentioning it, she keeps him busy. First, he helps back up their trailer, because the Lanky One–Ove’s name for Patrick–cannot do it himself.

After an accident, in which Patrick falls from a borrowed ladder, Ove must watch Parvaneh’s little girls. He gets roped into reading to the three-year-old. What follows afterwards still makes me laugh.

“Once upon a time there was a little train,” reads Ove, with all the enthusiasm of someone reciting a tax statement.

Then he turns the page. The three-year-old stops him and goes back. the seven-year-old shakes her head tiredly.

“You have to say what happens on that page as well. And do voices,” she says.

Ove stares at her.

“What bloo–“

He clears his throat midsentence.

“What voices?” he corrects himself.

“Fairy-tale voices,” replies the seven-year-old.

“You swored,” the three-year-old announces with glee.

“Did not,” says Ove.

“Yes,” says the three-year-old.

“We’re not doing any bloo–we’re not doing any voices!”

“Maybe you’re no good at reading stories,” notes the seven-year-old.

“Maybe you’re no good at listening to them!” Ove counters.

“Maybe you’re no good at TELLING THEM!”

Ove looks at the book, very unimpressed.

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman, pgs. 121-122.

I love how Ove struggles with reading a children’s book just the way the three-year-old likes it. I laugh at the natural, very realistic dialogue that transpires between the children and Ove. The entire book is fully of humorous bits and pieces, even the scenes where Ove is planning to kill himself. The humor in that is that the world, God, the universe itself is trying to keep Ove from dying. The rope that he tries to hang himself with breaks. Someone has a fit on the train platform and Ove is the only one who can possibly save him. The universe, God, or the world is saying: We need you, Ove.

Ove is a very handy man. He can take apart his Saab, down to the nuts and bolts, and put it back together again. When he worked, he was a hard worker, a man of few words, but when he spoke, he upheld his honor. I admire Ove, because men like him don’t always exist anymore. (I know people who are very hard workers, who put sweat and tears into their jobs, and I know of a man who can cook really well, and helps fix his mother’s car. I work with people at Target who are hard workers every single day they have a shift, and I admire them for that.) I didn’t say that men or women like Ove don’t exist, but they are rare in our modern world. Which makes people who work hard and can take something completely apart and put it back together again from its bits and pieces all the more admirable.

Ove, as time goes on, becomes a part of Parvaneh and Patrick’s family. He becomes a respected person among his community as well. He attends the birthday party of the seven, now ten-year-old, and gives her a wonderful gift. He helps save a friend in need, someone who he has a unique relationship with because they found a common ground in argumentation, as well as competition.

I miss Ove, Parvaneh and Parvaneh’s family. I have confidence that they are all doing well, and that the new family in Ove’s old house who drive a Saab will fit in just fine.

Fredrik Backman is a wonderful writer, someone who captures humanity and human emotion quite well. He writes using rich and natural dialogue, something that is hard to come by in books or films these days. (Boyhood, a film about a young boy growing up, has some of the most realistic dialogue I’ve heard in a movie in a long time. The scene after the graduation party is a good example, in my mind.)

Fredrik Backman does a good job of setting up the emotions of loss, and what it can do to a person. Loss is something that’s hard to write about well, but Backman does a fantastic job of making the reader realize why Ove is the way he is.

So, if you’re looking to love a crotchety older man, this is the book for you. Ove will capture your heart, and make you think a little differently about the crotchety people in your day-to-day life.

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