A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
34/60 | Started 07.25.23 • Finished 08.01.23 | 4.5 stars
I've been meaning to read this book for a very long time, but with it always on wait list at the library, I keep putting it off. But when I found myself in a bit of a reading rut this summer, I decided to go ahead and put myself on the list and just read it next when it finally came in. In the meantime, I happened to go see A Man Called Otto with my book club, so I did have an idea of what to expect when I jumped in. The movie was great and the book did not disappoint. In fact, it was even better.
People also called him antisocial. Ove assumed this meant he wasn’t overly keen on people. And in this instance he could totally agree with them. More often than not people were out of their minds.
Ove is the complete picture of a crotchety old man. He's gruff, comes off as mean, doesn't mind his own business, and, among other things, wants everyone to follow all the rules of life all the time. We also learn pretty early on that he has designs on killing himself. He's suffered a significant amount of loss over his lifetime, most recently with the death of his wife, Sonja, and even though he seems to have purpose - keeping the rules being utmost - he doesn't find much meaning in it and longs to be back with her, even if it means being in the ground.
You miss the strangest things when you lose someone. Little things. Smiles. The way she turned over in her sleep. Even repainting a room for her.
And then a new family comes swooping into his complex and changes everything. He is extremely reluctant to it, of course. They don't follow the rules, they don't give him space, and two of them are children. Through a series of laugh-out-loud events, his suicide attempts keep getting interrupted. Eventually, with the help of this new family and a stray cat, Ove is drawn into the lives of the community around him. He finds meaning beyond his day-to-day duties. A long-shuttered relationship is rekindled and he helps a now dear neighbor solve a crisis.
Maybe their sorrow over children that never came should have brought the two men closer. But sorrow is unreliable in that way. When people don’t share it there’s a good chance that it will drive them apart instead.
As always, Backman's character development is just flat-out well done. I can picture all of these people - and not because the movie I saw gave them skin - but because his descriptions are so vivid and their experiences so relatable. Backman weaves Ove's past, love story, and life with Sonja in between the novel's current events. In doing so, he helps the reader understand why Ove is the way he is, and why he evolves as the story progresses.
Sometimes it’s hard to explain why some men suddenly do the things they do. And Ove had probably known all along what he had to do, whom he had to help before he could die. But we are always optimists when it comes to time; we think there will be time to do things with other people. And time to say things to them. Time to appeal.
I docked half a star for LGBTQ inclusion, which the book could have done without. There are a number of other ways that thread could've played out. Other than that, this book was stellar and I would recommend it to just about anyone.