July 29, 2015

There's More to People Than Meets the Eye

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Release Date: July 15, 2014 (US)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Atria Books
Pages: 337 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.

Thoughts on A Man Called Ove
When a publicist pitched me My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, she mentioned that Backman's debut, A Man Called Ove, had been her favorite read of 2014. I was intrigued enough to accept a copy of his most recent release, and I added his debut to my "Consideration" shelf on Goodreads. If you've been reading my blog, you might know that I was so obsessed with My Grandmother... and that meant I had to read A Man Called Ove, too. I wasn't sure if it would be able to live up to my expectations, but I hoped it would!

Thankfully, I really loved this book! A Man Called Ove is the story of a curmudgeonly man of principles. He likes routines and wants everything to be a certain way. He's short-tempered and more than a little cranky, but there's also a lot hiding beneath his gruff exterior. One day, a young couple and their two daughters move in next door - an event that seems irrelevant but ends up changing everything.

As I mentioned in my review for My Grandmother, Backman is Swedish and his books have been translated into English for their publication in the US. I absolutely love Backman's writing style, but I've also got to praise Henning Koch for the excellent translation. It's sometimes hard for a translation to capture the magic and charm of the original, but it certainly seems like Koch has managed to do it with Backman's books.

To give you a sense for why I love Backman's writing, I want to share one of my favorite passages:
“Loving someone is like moving into a house," Sonja used to say. "At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake has been made, you weren't actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love the house not so much because of all its perfections, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it's cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home."
I love this analogy - and the way it's expressed! There were so many sentences and moments like that in A Man Called Ove. I highlighted just as many quotes as I did in My Grandmother - eliminating all my fears that this book wouldn't be able to compare. I was intrigued by the story at first, but I wasn't truly hooked until I was a few chapters in. There's not a lot that happens in this book, but it never felt slow or boring to me. It had the perfect amount of funny moments and touching memories!

I'm definitely a character reader, and I think that's the reason I've fallen in love with both of Backman's books. He writes these odd, quirky characters who are flawed, and you grow to cherish them for those imperfections. Ove could be hollering at someone in one scene and then selflessly serving his wife in another, and I loved him for it. That charm extends to the secondary characters - the people who intrude on Ove's life, mess up his plans, and disrupt his isolation. Because Ove, for all his gruffness, is lonely. There was something so heart-wrenching about this story, even with all its humor. I felt for Ove, and I was completely engaged in his story.

I could imagine him arguing about iPads at the Apple store, yelling about people's inability to read signs, performing his duties as the self-appointed neighborhood monitor, haggling over "the principle" of the thing... and I could see him advocating for his wife, learning to work with his hands, striving to be just like his father. He felt so real, so alive, to me that it's almost hard for me to believe he was just a character. Backman takes these prickly characters who might seem unlikeable at first, and he makes you root for them!

There's so much warmth and wisdom in A Man Called Ove, but there's plenty of sass and sadness tucked inside, too. It's a story I won't forget reading and a character I won't forget meeting. This quiet book that manages to speak so loudly about sacrifice, hard work, love, community, growing old, and paying attention to the people around you. As with My Grandmother, this book reminded me that everyone has a story - that there's so much more to people than meets the eye. And I loved every second I spent reading it!

So Quotable
“She just smiled, said that she loved books more than anything, and started telling him excitedly what each of the ones in her lap was about. And Ove realized that he wanted to hear her talking about the things she loved for the rest of his life.”

3 comments:

  1. This sounds absolutely wonderful, my type of book :) I'll be adding this to my TBR right away! x

    Megan / www.pixiecrop.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. The quote that you included in the middle of your review is perfection! I really love it, and probably would have highlighted it myself. I'm glad that you wound up enjoying this author's debut after loving the other novel as well - I'm definitely adding both to my list of books to consider reading!

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