“Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn’t.” A Man Called Ove (2013) follows Ove as he heals from the pains of his wife’s death. Ove is a quintessential grumpy old man whose life takes a turn after a young family moves in next door. With the perfect blend of a heart-breaking and heart-wrenching story, the author Fredrik Backman allows readers to reflect on life, humanity, and the concept of death through his novel.
▲ A Man Called Ove (2013)
Backman is a Swedish columnist, blogger and writer. He grew up in Sweden studying comparative religion but dropped out of university to become a truck driver instead. He then kickstarted his writing career and wrote for a Swedish newspaper until he made his novel debut in 2012 with En man som heter Ove. His first book became such a hit that it was translated in English and published in 2013 with the title A Man Calle Ove. The book was also adapted into a film due to its popular demand. Backman explained in an interview with The New York Times that his inspiration to write A Man Called Ove came from a story told by his co-worker about an old man whose impolite outbursts were calmed by his wife.
A Man Called Ove is about a curmudgeonly 59-year-old widower who lashes out at literally anybody if he feels as if they are violating his strict way of life or his perception on how things ought to be. He is, at the core, a man who is grieving over his past wife and a few months later, he decides to make careful preparations to follow after his wife by killing himself. However, he finds that his efforts are continuously interrupted by his neighbors and, one day, he strikes up an unlikely and unwanted friendship with an Iranian who moves in next door. This new encounter allows him to change his mind about a number of things, and he begins to change slowly.
What makes this novel entirely deserving of the praise is Backman’s straightforward writing that deals with a relatable topic concerning life and death. Considering the complexity of the overarching themes, Backman’s writing is unexpectedly simple and clean with its gentle, episodic and occasionally repetitive structure. The content of the book focuses on people who feel disconnected with the world and the text is laced with loneliness but threaded with hope.
When Backman took the manuscript of this novel to get it published, however, Backman had quite a bit of trouble because the main character is not the typical positive charmer that most people like to see from a protagonist. In fact, Backman’s characterization of Ove is so good to the point that readers take a strong dislike to Ove at the first glance. However, even this is a show of Backman’s impeccable writing.
Within a few pages, readers will find themselves drawn into the book and put on an emotional ride ranging from hatred for Ove to empathy for a heartbroken man. This is a story about a man and it is a very human story that would hit home to a lot of readers. In an age where stories of superheroes, science fiction (SF), or other forms of engaging content are forced into books, A Man Called Ove is a very nice reflection on humanity.