Last summer, I happen to discover Fredrik Backman’s work for the first time when I read Anxious People. That book is a masterpiece in my opinion, and I immediately just wanted to read all his other novels after. I read A Man Called Ove next which is probably his most popular work. It has already been adapted into film in Sweden in 2015 and a remake (A Man Called Otto) is also in the works which will star award-winning actor, Tom Hanks, and is set to release in December 2022.
Backman has such a unique writing style and he continues to write novels that are both heartwarming and powerful, and guarantees to leave an indelible mark on its readers. A Man Called Ove is a novel that will charm you, tug at your heartstrings and give you a new perspective on life.
Pub Date: July 15, 2014 (English version)
Publisher: Atria Books
Number of Pages: 337 (hardcover)
Genre: Literary Fiction, Humour
Add To Shelf: GOODREADS
Ove is a grumpy old man who is all about doing the right thing. He calls himself a man of principles as he is committed to following all rules and laws literally, even to the point of absurdity. He is the kind of man with strict routines and a short temper. On the exterior, he is a very unlikeable man who is nit-picky and impolite. His interactions with other people always seem dysfunctional. But behind his arrogance and grumpiness is a man in grief.
The story is told in alternating timelines as the author tells the story of Ove’s childhood and adulthood, and slowly unraveling what makes Ove who he is today.
To be honest, I had a really hard time getting into this book. It’s very sad and depressing and I almost DNF’d it but I’m so glad that I didn’t.
Almost every chapter is written in a similar style where Ove tries different ways to end his life but fails to do so because of various interruptions from the people in his neighbourhood. In each chapter we learn more about Ove and his past, and the reasons for his sadness and grief becomes clearer. It appears that Ove is experiencing situational depression after he lost the love of his life, Sonja. Sonja was the person who brought sunshine to Ove’s life. Now that she is gone, Ove becomes this grumpy man who actively pushes people away because the only person he really cares about is gone. Ove feels that his life has no purpose anymore.
A Man Called Ove kind of reminds me of Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library in some ways. Both books touch on depression and suicide. In The Midnight Library, it showed us that we may think that our life has no purpose nor is it worth living it, but in reality there are a lot of people that we have positively impacted and continue to impact by our presence and our actions, no matter what scale. There is a quote in The Midnight Library that I really love that captures this sentiment, which is “Never underestimate the big importance of small things”. Eventually Ove realizes that though his wife is gone, her love for him continues to exist and it is through her love that motivates Ove to continue to live his life and be the kind man that she knew and came to love.
“You only need one ray of light to chase all the shadows away,”
What I like about this book is the telling of Ove’s story in a mix of tragedy and humour, which is similar to the author’s other best-selling novel, Anxious People. The author did an amazing job portraying the rawness of grief and loss, and how it disorients our life. Ove was a well-written character – it felt very real, like I know him in real life. It also showed us a really good development of his character as he eventually learns to open up, accept things as they are, and as he makes progress in his relationships with humanity.
A Man Called Ove is a book that touches on love, friendships, community, but it’s also about grief and the journey we go through to cope with the death of a loved one.
“Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.”
Fredrik Backman is an amazing writer and his books always leave a huge impact on me. I’m looking forward to reading more of his books!
suicide, death of a loved one
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If you like this book, then you might also like Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, or Anxious People by the same author, Fredrik Backman.
Check out my Instagram post when I brought A Man Called Ove to my favourite coffee shop in Toronto!