Picked up a fiction book after a long time. I do not read fiction too often. My go-to genre is business non-fiction with a little bit of self-improvement genre thrown in here and there. But this book was constantly popping up on my recommendation list as well as the best seller list whenever I logged on to Amazon. So I went ahead and picked it up to break the monotony of subject.
Only once I was well into the book, did I realize that this story was based in Sweden (when I came across the first mention of the currency used in the book – kronor). And that this book was a translation. I had a recent bad experience reading a translated book, so I was apprehensive. But I went ahead. And I am glad I did.
The plot of the book is simple. The central character is Ove (we never get to know his last name), a grumpy old man who lives in a quiet residential neighbourhood. Ove mostly goes about doing his business every day. Which is not much except making sure that all the rules laid down by the Residents Association are followed to the last t. He makes an unofficial daily patrol through the residential area to ensure this. All the while snapping at any of his neighbours who dared to transgress upon any of the rules.
Without putting any spoilers, the story further explores how Ove’s attitude changes towards people in general, and how he slowly learns to accept his neighbours as an unneeded yet an integral part of his life.
The book follows two time-lines, which is a very popular trope in story-telling considering its presence in many novels lately. One time-line explores the present day life of Ove, while the other explores Ove’s back story. Although an overused writing structure, I guess it is here to stay as it breaks the monotony of a linear plot line.
The book beautifully captures the loneliness in the central character’s life. It is especially amusing to read how Parvaneh’s (his new nosy neighbour) initially unwelcome intrusion into his life annoys Ove, and how he gradually becomes comfortable with it (all the while maintaining an external grumpy demeanour). Parvaneh and her two girls are the only other characters that are sketched out in detail. The rest of the characters simply serve to build up the story. But on the other hand, I liked that the author chose to keep the story crisp and avoiding any irrelevant side plots. Yet I would have liked if Backman had detailed out atleast the characters of Rune and Anita, the couple with whom he shared a special love hate relation.
There are some truly beautiful lines from the book worth mentioning here.
You miss the strangest things when you lose someone. Little things. Smiles. The way she turned over in her sleep. Even repainting a room for her.
…most of us fear more than anything that [death] 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.
One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead.
A man called Ove is a quick read and a poignant one at that. Now that I think of it, a close match to the general plot that his novel follows would be something like Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino. Pick this book up in case you’re looking for a breezy read. At times, the book can get a bit heavy, but the underlying message of the book is clear – life is meant to be celebrated with those around you, no matter how much you think you don’t need them. Let me close this with yet another poignant line from the book.
All people at root are time optimists. We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like “if”.