Friday, July 18, 2014

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I loved this book. If enough libraries in my area buy it, I will choose it as a discussion book for the library's Tuesday/Thursday book clubs next summer.

Ove is a middle-aged man set in his ways. Very, very set in his ways. He does not like change. He knows how to do things and is exasperated when others don’t. He seems like an unfriendly grouch, but over the course of this engrossing novel we learn why Ove is the way he is and watch as others come to know him and love him. It’s not always a happy book – there is heartbreak, depression, and grief – but it is a hopeful book about love and making your own family.

The most interesting of Ove’s relationships is with Parvaneh, the pregnant Iranian dynamo who moves in next door with her Swedish husband and two daughters. The next most interesting is his relationship with the stray cat who adopts him (and who – spoiler alert – does not die despite a rocky beginning with a cruel neighbor). I think the author has known a person like Ove and also a cat like Ove’s cat.

Ove reminded me a bit of my father, which no doubt endeared him to me. Some of the plot points are hard to buy, but I enjoyed the story so much I was able to ignore that and just enjoy the ride. This novel contains a variety of complex and individual characters and relationships, and the narration is original and refreshing.

Parvaneh somehow manages to convince Ove to teach her to drive. At one point, stressed from an encounter with a rude unfeeling driver, she starts to shout and then to cry, which is very unlike her. Ove calmly lectures her:
 “Now, you listen to me….You’ve given birth to two children and quite soon you’ll be squeezing out a third. You’ve come here from a land far away and most likely you fled war and persecution and all sorts of other nonsense. You’ve learned a new language and got yourself an education and you’re holding together a family of obvious incompetents. And I’ll be damned if I’ve seen you afraid of a single bloody thing in this world before now….I’m not asking for brain surgery, I’m asking you to drive a car….Some of the greatest twits in world history have sorted out how it works. And you will as well.”
And then he utters seven words, which Parveneh will always remember as the loveliest compliment he’ll ever give her.
“Because you are not a complete twit.” (pp. 237-238)
This passage does a good job of capturing Ove’s gruff exterior and good-hearted interior.

Since the success of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, I’ve seen a number of books compared to it. This is the first such book that actually did remind me of Major Pettigrew, not in terms of the plot but in terms of the overall feeling of the story. Some predictable things happen, but not everything, and overall the book felt original. It’s hard to capture in a review how delightful I found the narrative.

The book ends with an unnecessary epilogue, but that seems to be a trend these days. If you enjoyed Major Pettigrew or Heft by Liz Moore, or like to read fiction about quirky characters, I definitely recommend A Man Called Ove.  It can be found at the Galesburg Public Library in the New Fiction area under the author's last name.

No comments:

Post a Comment