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NOVEL: A Man Called Ove
AUTHOR: Fredrik Backman
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2012
I picked this one up entirely at random…and I am ever so glad I did, because it was a thoroughly delightful story. Ove is a grumpy Swedish man, perpetually at war with his neighbors, with local government officials, the modern world generally, and technology specifically. He’s lost his wife and he’s lost his job, acts much older than his 59 years, and his hopelessness, despair, and anger, contrasted with the humorous tone of this novel, at first made me think that we were heading into Vonnegut or Pynchon territory and gallows humor. That would likely have made a fine and funny book, but a different book. This one instead introduces Ove the curmudgeon to some new neighbors, the “Pregnant Foreign Woman,” as he called her at first (not bothering to learn Parvanah’s name), her husband “the Lanky One,” and their two little girls, and as they manage to pull Ove out of his isolation and engage him again with the world though a series of mishaps and accidents, an unkempt cat, and repeated requests for transportation and repair jobs, we gradually learn his back story.
A Man Called Ove ends up being a heartwarming and sweet tale of redemption, community, and friendship, which also somehow manages to refrain from being mawkish. It’s a clever balancing act, but Backman nails it here. It’s an unusual story that doesn’t quite fall neatly into any genre, which is perhaps one reason that it struggled to find a publisher. Backman told the New York Times last year that one rejection note said “We like your novel, we think your writing has potential, but we see no commercial potential.” That was an unfortunate judgment, as A Man Called Ove, when eventually published, went on to become a huge hit in Sweden, was translated into 38 languages, became a huge hit in lots of other places (including the U.S. and South Korea), and has been adapted into both a play and a film.
As well as being a bit of an unexpected feel-good story, A Man Called Ove has some important messages. People are complicated. Someone you may have written off entirely has likely loved fully, has been loved, has experienced joys and sorrows, and has surprising depth. And the grouchiest of men may ultimately have a kind heart.
RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 4 Whistles
HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon
Lead-In Art (Man With Cat) Courtesy of Zlata_Titmouse / Shutterstock.com
Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.
Laura can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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