Ove (“oo-vah”) is done with life. He sick of people – especially neighbors – who just don’t follow rules. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. During his daily inspections through the neighborhood, he calls attention to the infractions of the parking rules, the trash, and other resident association policies. The neighbors view him as a cantankerous curmudgeon who spouts off about trivial matters – “the bitter neighbor from hell.” The opening scene of the book, with Ove’s trying to purchase a computer, humorously shows his ongoing struggle with a modern world into which he has been begrudgingly dragged. His highest value (besides owning a Saab) is to be of use; but, the modern world seems to have no use for him. So he is done with life. He can’t help it: he’s still alive, but it isn’t for lack of trying. Each attempt to take his own life fails for some reason or another, mostly interruptions from his new neighbors – a young couple with two young daughters. Their acquaintance got off to a bad start when, on moving day, the husband backed the U-Haul truck into Ove’s mailbox,and crushed it. With a sigh, and a complaint about the younger generation, he indignantly backs up the U-Haul for them to show how it’s supposed to be done.
The book follows a classic Rom-Com (Romantic Comedy) formula of a person stuck in life with a fixed behavior and point of view, who is disrupted by another (usually a romantic interest but as with Mary Poppins and Mr. Banks, not always) and in the end is transformed. In this case, the neighbors (mostly the pushy, pregnant, and extroverted wife Parveneh) see past or ignore Ove’s rigid exterior to view and understand him as useful. They bring him food and make requests for help – driving lessons, handyman chores, rides to the hospital – and eventually they uncover a hidden heart of gold. A heart that has been severely broken and which the callous exterior is trying to protect. The reader, through Ove’s reflections, gets to know the backstory of a handy, hardworking, determined young man falling in love only once and losing that love. As with any good Rom-Com, it is humorous, heart-warming and life affirming – along with the laughs, there are tears.
Fredrick Backman, the author, is a blogger and columnist from Sweden. He never guessed that his debut novel, A Man Called Ove, would achieve the overwhelming success it has. He started writing it when a character on the blog proved hugely popular. Admittedly a tad grumpy himself at times, he could relate to the woes of a man who finds life sometimes isn’t going quite the way he wants it to. When an editor suggested he warm the character up a bit, Backman was having none of it. His instincts were right. The book has now been translated into 25 languages. When asked about creating Ove, Backman says “most people I have ever met are grieving something. Every human being has regrets and shame and sadness in them.”
Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, March 7. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Monday, Marcy 7 for a discussion of A Man Called Ove at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets the first Monday monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.