A Man Called Ove / Fredrik Backman

When Ove is first introduced in the opening chapter, he comes across as a cantankerous old sod; a neighbor you would want to avoid at all cost. And yet, as the centerpiece of this novel, he quickly begins to win the reader’s sympathy and respect. At age fifty-nine, he has just lost his job despite years of faithful service. Worse still, his adored wife Sonja, the woman he has loved since first setting eyes on her, has also recently died. If one overlooks his obsession with everyone abiding by rules of the Residents’ Association (which he helped to write), he is also the handyman one turns to when something is broken and needs to be fixed. He might grumble while doing so, but can always be counted upon when assistance is needed.

Heart-broken over the loss of his wife, Ove has decided to kill himself. And yet, every attempt he makes goes awry or is thwarted by a neighbor needing to ask a favor of him. The primary person who invades his life with the force of a hurricane is Parvaneh, a pregnant woman who has just moved in across the street along with her husband and two children. There is also a stray cat that appears and won’t leave him be, finally integrating itself as a member of the household despite Ove’s declaration that he can’t abide cats.

Heartwarming is the word that comes to mind when describing this novel. I was quickly drawn into Ove’s orbit. He might be a curmudgeon, but how can one not like someone with a heart of gold? A man of staunch principles, a believer in following strict routines; it makes for an enjoyable read to see how neighbors’ upset his apple cart, and in so doing, bring forth his better side. Backman wisely populates the novel with a good many other characters who win the reader’s respect. Parvaneh and Sonja (revealed in flashbacks) stand out, but there are others who add a welcomed complexity to the story.

The novel is not without faults. I did not find the book particularly well written. The author continually has Ove bellowing, even in situations where it is doubtful he would be doing so. I thought the cat in the story acted more like a dog than a feline. And a good many times, I felt Backman was trying too hard to tug at my heartstrings. And yet, the book works. Most readers will delight in spending time in Ove’s company.

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