A Man Called Ove Reviewed By Wally Wood of Bookpleasures.com
Reviewer Wally Wood: Wally is a a professional writer and a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He holds a master's degree in creative writing from the City University of New York as well as a bachelor's degree from Columbia University where he majored in philosophy. As a volunteer, he has taught writing in men's state prisons and to middle-school students in his local library.
His first novel, Getting Oriented: A Novel About Japan received positive reviews even from people who do not know him. As a ghost-writer, he has written 19 business books, all published by commercial publishers. He has recently published The Girl in the Photo which is currently available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a trade paperback or Kindle download.
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Author: Fredrik Backman
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Ove is not an easy character to like or to sympathize with. Okay, he's fifty-nine years old, his wife has died recently (the only person who could have stood him), he has no children, he's out of work, and his world has changed in ways he neither understands nor wants to understand.
In Chapter 1 of Fredrik Backman's best-selling A Man Called Ove, Ove shops for a computer. He's both ignorant and impatient; he does not trust the store clerk, assuming the worst. For example, if a laptop does not come with a keyboard—and Ove knows computers need keyboards—it's "Because you have to buy it as an 'extra,' don't you?" he sputters (Ove has a very short fuse). The sale does not go well.
In Chapter 2 we watch Ove go through his inflexible morning routine: make coffee, inspect his housing development's garages, make sure as always (with three tugs) his garage door is properly locked, confirm that no cars in the guest parking area have been parked more than 24 hours (he jots down license numbers), separates a glass jar from its lid, dropping the former into the glass recycling bin, the latter into the metal recycling bin (muttering "incompetents"), and, back home, prepares to hang himself in his living room. The chapter ends when he's interrupted by "a long scraping sound. Not at all unlike the type of sound created by a big oaf backing up a Japanese car hooked up to a trailer and scraping it against the exterior wall of Ove's house."
Well, guess what. It is a big oaf backing up a Japanese car hooked up to a trailer and scraping it against the exterior wall of Ove's house. It's his new next door neighbors, a Swede like Ove, his very pregnant Iranian wife, and two small children. Here's how Backman describes the husband: "He's wearing a knitted cardigan and his posture seems to indicate a very obvious calcium deficiency. He must be close to six and a half feet tall. Ove feels an instinctive skepticism towards all people taller than six feet; the blood can't quite make it all the way up to the brain."
A couple examples of Backman's method of showing the reader Ove's views of—attitude toward?—the world: "He's wearing his navy suit . . . Ove's wife likes that suit. She always says he looks to handsome in it. Like any sensible person, Ove is obviously of the opinion that only posers wear their best suits on weekdays. But this morning he decided to make an exception. He even put on his black going-out shoes and polished them with a responsible amount of boot shine." Not too much polish, a responsible amount.
One more example: "Ove didn't dislike this cat in particular. It's just that he didn't much like cats in general. He'd always perceived them as untrustworthy. Especially, as in the case of Earnest [a cat Ove's wife loved], they were as big as mopeds. It was actually quite difficult to determine whether he was just an unusually large cat or an outstandingly small lion. And you should never befriend something if there's a possibility it may take a fancy to eating you in your sleep." Throughout the book, Backman (or his translator) employs interesting metaphors and adjectives.
Few readers, however, read a book for its metaphors and adjectives (or, for that matter, it adverbs). I thought A Man Called Ove is an interesting exercise in working out how a man could become a curmudgeon, so depressed he wants to join his wife in death (and is certain he will join her, although he'll be a suicide), and, through the goodness of other people and his inherent decency, is returned to life. With an uplifting message like that, a book deserves to be a best seller.