A Man Called Ove
Published July 15, 2014
When my husband and I moved into our new house a couple years ago, we took a big risk. Our tiny neighborhood of ten lots was brand new (a developer had purchased one huge lot and subdivided it into a neighborhood of ten lots). Only four houses were built at the time, and there were no residents yet. We loved the house. And we loved the idea of a small, cozy neighborhood on a quiet cul-de-sac.
But we had some concerns. What if all our neighbors turned out to be assholes? What if they were grumpy old curmudgeons who insisted on bickering constantly over boundary lines? What if we hated them all?
In the end, we took a leap of faith and bought the house. And, now that all ten houses have been built and occupied, we realize that we got very lucky. We know and like all of our neighbors (in fact, several neighbors have become really good friends). We have annual neighborhood block parties and progressive dinner parties. We go to brunch and lunch and yoga together. We have a happy little community plucked from a bygone era. And we love it.
Of course, I count my lucky stars. Because I know that, just as easily, it could have been a nightmare. We could have gotten a neighbor like Ove. Ove is fifty-nine years old (but acts like he’s about eighty-nine) and ridiculously set in his ways. Every morning at quarter to six, he takes it upon himself to patrol the neighborhood. He makes sure that no unidentified cars have been parked in the neighborhood lot for more than twenty-four hours (and, if they have, he gets them towed). He makes sure no bikes have been left out unattended. He makes sure that all signs (most of which he has erected) are being followed. He is a stickler for the rules, even if the rules are stupid. Not to mention, everything and everyone gets on his nerves. He is quick with a rant:
Ove glares out the window. The poser is jogging. Not that Ove is provoked by jogging. Not at all. Ove couldn’t give a damn about people jogging. What he can’t understand is why they have to make such a big thing of it. With those smug smiles on their faces, as if they were out there curing pulmonary emphysema. Either they walk fast or they run slowly, that’s what joggers do. It’s a forty-year-old man’s way of telling the world that he can’t do anything right. Is it really necessary to dress up as a fourteen-year-old Romanian gymnast in order to be able to do it? Or the Olympic tobogganing team? Just because one shuffles aimlessly around the block for three quarters of an hour?
Even smiles can set him off (“The husband just nods back at her with an indescribably harmonious smile. The very sort of smile that makes decent folk want to slap Buddhist monks in the face.”).
But, when you get right down to it, Ove has many reasons to be grumpy. His wife, Sonja, the one person he loved in the world, died six months ago. And now he’s been forced into early retirement. He feels lonely and purposeless and unhappy. So, he decides to take matters into his own hands . . . and kill himself.
Unfortunately, his plans are repeatedly thwarted by his God-awful neighbors. A new family (which consists of the Lanky One, the foreign Pregnant One, a seven-year-old introvert, and a three-year-old “flapping speech defect”) moves into one of the neighboring houses and inserts themselves into Ove’s life, demanding his aid and attention at every turn. And, to make matters worse, an ugly Cat Annoyance has showed up in the snow outside Ove’s shed, requiring food and warmth. Things are not going as Ove intended.
The book was originally written in Swedish, and it has its quirks. It is certainly not the best-written or most literary book around, but it definitely meets its goal. What goal is that? To be downright lovable. The back of the book boasts a very accurate quotation from Booklist’s starred review: “If there was an award for ‘Most Charming Book of the Year,’ this first novel . . . would win hands down.”
This book is cutesy and utterly predictable. Each chapter is entitled “A Man Called Ove . . .” or “A Man Who Was Ove . . .” (for example, “A Man Called Ove Drills a Hole for a Hook,” and “A Man Who Was Ove and a Woman on a Train”). And, as you would expect, it follows the evolution of the man named Ove. It shows how he got to be the way he is, how he is more complex than his curmudgeonly façade, and how his hard exterior shell can be cracked. It reads quickly (lots of short chapters, lots of silly little adventures), is laugh-out-loud funny in places, and is shed-actual-tears touching in others (I had tears streaming down my face at the end. I blame pregnancy hormones).
It is not particularly deep or thought-provoking, but it is sweet, it has a lovely message, and it will make you smile. It will also make you want to read his new book, released a couple weeks ago, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. The review for that book is coming up next!
- Winner of the 2014 BookBrowse Debut Novel Award
- Booklist starred review
- Publishers Weekly starred review
Who should read it: Mom (i.e., people who love a sweet, cutesy book), my Park Overlook neighbors (i.e., people who appreciate great neighbors and happy communities).
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman (an Indie Next List pick for July 2015; a June 2015 LibraryReads List selection)
- The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (a Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel in 2012; a Carnegie Medal in Literature Nominee in 2014; an Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee in 2015)