Book Review – A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

In A Man Called Ove, Fredrick Backman may have crafted the most loveable miserable bastard in the history of literature. Ove was fifty-nine. He was a man of principle. He believed so strongly in things: justice and fair play and hard work and a world where right just had to be right. (Loc 1919) Unfortunately for those around him, this intransigence transferred over to just about everything else in his vicinity. From Ove’s choice of car (only a Saab) to enforcing the parking regulations in his development (because vehicular traffic is prohibited in the residential areas), everything was plain to him. Or it was until he met his wife Sonya. As Mr. Backman wrote,

He was a man of black and white

And she was color. All the color he had. (Loc 476)

SPOILER ALERT: All that color disappeared when his wife passed away, leaving Ove alone.

I enjoyed this book. I found it much more light-hearted than expected; especially,due to the subject matter. The author even found humor in his multiple suicide attempts. Pushy neighbors and people in the path of the same train he wanted to jump in front of thwarted his plans. Please note that Mr. Backman hails from Sweden: the same land that gave us Ingmar Bergman and August Strindberg.

The author included more conventional uses of humor as well. He’s an exchange over a “broken” ticket machine that occurred at a train station.

“Your ticket machine doesn’t work,” Ove informs him.

“No?” says the man behind the Plexiglass.

“What do you mean, ‘no’?”

“I mean…I’m just asking, doesn’t it work?”

“I just told you, it’s broken!”

The man behind the Plexiglass looks dubious. “Maybe there’s something wrong with your card? Some dirt on the magnetic strip?” he suggests.

Ove looks as if the man behind the Plexiglass had just raised the possibility of Ove having erectile dysfunction. The man behind the Plexiglass goes silent. (Loc 1765)

Ove’s wife may have been the one person capable of managing him. The author described her behavior during her pregnancy.

Sonja, not to be outdone, developed a temper that could flare up faster than a pair of saloon doors in a John Wayne film which made Ove reluctant to open his mouth at all. (Loc 2257)

Here’s the author’s witty depiction of Ove’s rest room:

Towards the end the doctors prescribed so many pain killers for Sonja. Their bathroom still looks like a storage facility for the Columbian mafia. (Loc 2704)

While the lyrical flourishes above entertained me, I found a few examples of poor writing, as well. With apologies to the Johnson columnist for The Economist, I read weak uses of the passive voice in several places. Examples included, “Ove’s father was sent for” (Loc 511) and “can be heard” (Loc 1314). The author used the cliché “sweating buckets”. (Loc 2108) I also didn’t like that at a critical scene in the story a reporter introduced herself as, “I’m from the local newspaper.” (Loc 3779) Would a real journalist talk that way? Wouldn’t she identify the news organization that employed her? I didn’t find this character’s conduct believable.

While A Man Called Ove ended somewhat happily, I thought the author wrapped up the story too neatly. He explained the blissful outcomes for all the characters in the story in one neat paragraph. I won’t give away spoilers, but some of the resolutions jarred me. As a reader I would’ve appreciated some foreshadowing so I could’ve either surmised the conclusions or at least understood some basis for them.

I thought Mr. Backman crafted an excellent story in A Man Called Ove. Normally these kinds of novels aren’t a part of my regular repertoire. I would recommend it to people interested in an entertaining read. The positives about this book far exceed its shortcomings…just like Ove himself.

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