A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman is a wonderful feel good story, about a cantankerous old man called Ove and set in a small Swedish town, . Oh, but A Man Called Ove is so much more than that! The author, Fredrik Backman, has masterfully used this story to explore love, grief, what it means to be a ‘man today, ageing and the importance of community.
For a long time I resisted reading A Man Called Ove. This was the mistaken belief that it would be another version of The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by fellow Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. Please do not do yourself the same disservice. This book is wonderful for it’s unique story and the authors exploration of contemporary themes affecting most western countries today.
With A Man Called Ove we are given an intimate portrayal of the day to day life of an elderly man swamped with grief following the death of his adored wife. In a state of depression he alienates himself from society through the bad behaviour of an angry old man. Neighbours, old friends and cats are not safe from Ove’s grumpy rants and acts of revenge.
Ove’s life story is tantalisingly revealed through the authors clever use of alternating present and past. Flashbacks mixed with rants about not following road rules, apartment block signs and the evils of spending up on credit cards, slowly reveal Ove’s honest and humble character, together with a beautiful love story.
The theme that I most enjoyed in this book is that of community. In Ove’s case, how the love and support from a community can transform a life. Within this theme we are offered a glimpse of how Sweden, like many countries, is losing it’s small communities to larger cities and how immigration is invigorating small towns and villages.
The driving force of the story is Oves relationship with an immigrant, Parvenah. Through the character Parvenah the Author explores the theme of ‘place’. Do you need to be born and bred, go on to build your own home to establish a sense of place? Or in the immigrant’s experience is ‘place’ built by familiar food & customs and developed through reaching out and helping those in need? Why do some cultures have charity as a very strong value? If someone is in need of help, do you impose charity regardless of if they want it?
Oves is able to stay in his home that he has built and enjoyed with his beloved wife. This is only possible with the help of neighbours and is a beautiful example of ‘ageing in place’ and another option to ageing gracefully as discussed in a previous blog post.
A Man Called Ove the movie was released in 2015, I haven’t seen the movie and will probably wait a while. I just don’t like being disappointed if the director’s interpretation is different to my own. A Man Called Ove was so enjoyable that I would like to saviour my own personal delight in the story a little longer.
I recommend A Man Called Ove to anyone who enjoys a feel good story that is well written. If you have enjoyed The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared then you will love A Man Called Ove. Anyone with a love for Sweden will enjoy the poignant descriptions of the landscape and unique Swedish quirks of the people.
A Man Called Ove is a definite 5 stars from me!