Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backland

A Man Called Ove  by Fredrik Backman
Published  July 2014 by Atria Books
Source: bought this for my Nook

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

My Thoughts:
When one of my book club members pitched this book, she did so because it was recommended to her by a friend in another book club who compared it to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Not necessarily a selling point for at least one of our members, who found herself constantly wanting to slap Harold Fry.

Ove is not Harold Fry. Ove is a man lost without the love of his life, a woman who may have been the only person who ever really understood him. He is the very definition of "curmudgeon." He is a slave to routine, a stickler for the rules, and buried by his own opinions. "Ove was so weighed down with anger." He has no tolerance for other people and makes no bones about it. He is, frankly, a pain in the ass as a neighbor. Not the kind of guy you would want to befriend, even if you could.


As Backman moves back and forth between Ove's past and the present, we begin to understand what has made Ove so bitter but also how it is that a wonderful woman could fall in love with him.
"...everywhere, sooner or later, he was stopped by men in white shirts with strict, smug expressions on their faces."
"He was a man of black and white. And she was color. All the color he had."
When a new woman comes into his life, she pushes every button he has. Then along comes another person that cracks Ove's hard shell. And another. We begin to see that, underneath that shell, there is a man with a heart.

I loved the way that phrases come back again and again in the book. "People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had" just pages after the above quote. Again and again Backman uses some version of the phrase "chooses what sort of man he wants to be" to highlight the events that caused Ove to become who he would become. And this:
"Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn't."
I didn't expect to love this book. I'd heard enough good things to assume that I would like it. But a book with a crabby widower at it's center? Not something I assumed I would be able to relate to...just goes to show that you don't have to be able to relate to a book to find the common humanity in it. This book spoke to me.
"...time is a curious thing. Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years. One of the most painful moments in a person's life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps."
Because no one warned me, I'm warning you. This is obviously a book meant to pull at your heartstrings. I knew that from the beginning. I did not see that it was a book that was going to make me cry for the last 25 pages. But then I'm a sucker for a sweet moment, a touching gesture. So be warned. And if you don't feel just a little bit sappy by the end of this book, I'm going to call you Ove.

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