Three Cheers For A Man Called Ove!

“He was a man of black and white.
And she was colour. All the colour he had”

This, in a nutshell, is all Ove is about.

It is already well known that Frederik Backman’s debut, A Man Called Ove is a book about a grumpy old man who believes that he is surrounded by idiots! But what is less known, is that it is one of the finest books you will read in recent times. A warm book that tells a sincere story about a man called Ove who is one of the few old-fashioned people who inhabit this world full of grey with a world-view that is largely black and white. The story about a man whose unswerving conviction about what the world should be like, and a life-long dedication to make it just so, is as heartening as it is heart wrenching. 

The plot

Age is only a number, they say; a person is as young as he feels in his heart! But what happens when the heart loses the will to go on? What happens when the one person who is your inspiration to live, leaves you alone and moves on? What happens when you see no point in living anymore? Life is beautiful, but only for those who can see the beauty in it; but what if you feel lonely even amongst a crowd? What do you do when the one person in the whole world who loves you and understands you, leaves you alone?

Here’s the answer. In this very direct story, the author gives us hope and optimism very subtly and definitely! Despair can always be turned into joy if one is willing to give the changing times and circumstances a chance. Ove’s story is not merely Ove’s alone; it is a story of every person who is looking for a reason to love, a reason to live. And the author tells it beautifully in his wonderfully humorous and heartwarming story-telling style.

Why it works     

Ove pulls you in his story right from the start where you meet a grumpy old man trying to buy a computer from a sales clerk who is thoroughly exasperated having to deal with this grandfatherly figure! You warm to this person of rough exterior whose brand of common sense, you may laugh at, but can somewhere relate to. We have all known someone like Ove – a grandfather, an uncle, a father – we have seen them around and have quailed at the impossibility of pleasing them no matter what we do! And yet, we forgive them their eccentricities, their rash words and sullen attitude. Ove too, is one such cantankerous old man whose story unfolds slowly – the story of a recluse who prefers to be so – someone who is not interested in people, and who doesn’t like interference – on his part as well as others’.

Relatable and beautiful characterization

Including Ove, all the characters you meet in this story are as real as it gets. Be it the overbearing Parvaneh who hides a heart full of love or her not-so-efficient husband Patrick who is a gentleman if there was one, or Anita and Rune next door who are a quintessential old couple next door; or even the boys – Jimmy, with his food fetish, or Mirsad with his progressive free thinking and Adrian who is struggling to make something worthwhile of his life. And most of all, Sonja, who not really there, but is present in every single moment of the story. Her explanations for Ove being the way he is and her philosophy is what keeps us turning the pages and coming back hungrily for more.

But the best is of course, the eponymous character!

Ove is the way he is because he works purely on logic, on common sense. And anyone (which is most people today) who cannot work according to this logic is not his best friend. Raised by a conscientious father who sticks to his principles, Ove leads a life of high morals and ethics. And yet, he never passes judgment on a fellow human being. Be it people of his own age or ethnicity or background or someone very young and with completely different ideologies than the men and women of Ove’s generation or even a cat! He just accepts things. Doesn’t necessarily like them, but accepts them and is kind enough to give them all a chance in life.

As you continue reading though, you realise that there is also a rare soft side to Ove, a side that we can all see and was reserved for only one special person. But Ove probably doesn’t even realise it. For him, this is just his natural reaction to this special person – his wife, Sonja.

And it is when you come across this part of the story, the relationship between Ove and Sonja that you have the “Ah!” moment; when you start seeing Ove in a completely different light. Be it the way he treats his new neighbours or the way Ove is sensitive (or not) to the cat or the feelings of utter disgust he harbors towards the “men in white shirts.” Once you get to know Ove and his background and where he comes from, you get to know what drives him and might actually end up agreeing with him!

Sensitive handling of serious issues

The author speaks of and handles the highly sensitive issue of old age depression and loneliness in this book with such subtlety and sangfroid, that it doesn’t merely stay an old man’s tale, but transforms into a phenomenon where, towards the end, he has us all rooting for Ove! The story also thoughtfully touches on the insensitivity that sometimes governmental bodies meant to help people end up showing towards those who are really in need of their help.

What could have been better

There is nary a dull moment in Ove’s story. And when you turn the last page, you do so with a smile. A satisfied smile that tells you that the book has ended on a perfect note!

However, at times the writing gets a bit repetitive. Sometimes the petulance seems made up and overly portrayed. And even some comic scenes feel like they have been taken a bit too far. But I am ready to put these down to the fact that the book is a translation into English and hence the language barrier does play a big role. 

My biggest takeaway

Despite all these, I stand by my view that this is one of the finest books I have read in recent times. A warm, funny, profound story of a very likeable old man, A Man Called Ove is a perfect read and a definite recommendation for readers and non-readers alike!

And to conclude my review, I will borrow a few lines from this wonderful book itself:

“Most of us only live for the time that lies ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years, one of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached where there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps. Afternoons in the sun someone’s hand clutched in one’s own. The fragrance of flower beds in fresh bloom. Sundays in a café. Grandchildren, perhaps. One finds a way of living for the sake of someone else’s future.”  


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