I almost gave up on it. And, it should be noted, I rarely abandon a book.
But after more than 50 pages — the number I advised students to reach before they made the decision to abandon a book — I was struggling with the will to continue.
Ove is a miserable man. Cranky doesn’t even begin to cover it. He delights in arguing over the most petty of situations. He is rude to neighbors and strangers indiscriminately. But then, very slowly, the whole of the man emerges.
Fredrik Backman created an unforgettable character in A Man Called Ove. In alternating chapters, we meet the boy Ove, the young man who needs no one, and then the man who needs only one remarkable woman. Backman lets us meet her as well. The story unfolds and Ove comes alive as people push into his space and interfere with his best laid plans. It becomes impossible to put the book down.
It is hard to believe that this is a first novel. Reviews have raved with praises like “charming” and “a crowd pleaser.” By word of mouth, "Ove" has become a best seller across Europe and now in the US. It is bitter and sweet. Ove made me angry. He made me laugh. A lot. And in the end, I cried with the sheer beauty of this character and a story so beautifully told.
I came to respect this guy. Like most interesting characters I meet in books, or in life, he reminded me of unusual kids I’ve known in my classrooms. He’s not a student. His wife is the intellect. He’s a man who lives in a world of things like trains, houses, anything mechanical, and cars! Specifically — most specifically — Saabs. He is physically strong, mentally a spatial genius, and emotionally what some might describe as “on the spectrum.”
I would not label him. Backman doesn’t. What he is, honestly, is a survivor. His taciturn bitterness is understandable as we learn of the tragedies that would stymie most people. What is miraculous is his resiliency and his life well lived. The bitter and the sweet.
This is a novel that is well worth reading. But don’t get discouraged and for sure, don’t give up on Ove or his remarkable story.
I wrote a column, Book Notes, for many years for local central NJ weeklies. Newspapers are a dying breed, but the desire to share thoughts on books lives on.