One day, following what must have been a prolonged harangue from me about the injustices of the world, my wife tossed a book at me and said: “You should read this, you’re in danger of becoming a grumpy old man.”
“A Man Called Ove,” is a book I’d heard about for years and had pegged it as a favorite of women’s book clubs. Her friend, not much of a reader, had loved it, as had many people I know whose tastes never stray off the bestseller lists
On the cover, above a cartoon-like drawing of the back of a man, presumably Ove, and a cat on the top of a hill, is a quote from a People magazine review: “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life.”
“You’re the one who should read this: It’ll make you appreciate me more.” It was a remark that kind of hung in the air.
The book took up residence on my dresser, where it sat for a long time. I kept thinking I’d better read it—my wife often knows what’s best for me— but I couldn’t bring myself to pick it up. I did, however, come across an audiobook at the library and I listened to that.
The international best-seller, by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman, tells the often-told tale of a person who’s become a pain in the ass and doesn’t care. Think of Scrooge, or Heidi’s grandfather or those farmers Anne of Green Gables charms or Pollyanna’s aunt. I’m sure there are hundreds of other examples in literature. These lonely people know have become embittered with the world and know it would be a better place if people would only listen to them for once. Ove is this man, but Swedish.
After a short introduction to Ove—who is meticulously planning his suicide—we meet on killing himself for reasons I won’t reveal here—he is brought unwillingly into the lives of his new neighbors, a “modern” man who doesn’t know the things any man should know (how to back up a trailer for instance), his very-pregnant and plucky wife and their two adorable daughters. And I shouldn’t forget the cat.
So, they worm their way into Ove’s well-ordered, soon-to-end life, and no spoiler here, bring him back to life, metaphorically.
I could have detailed this plot without reading the book. Backman checks off all the necessary items: Ove’s tragic past that brought him to grumpiness. His long-hidden decency surfacing because it’s the right thing to do. His slow re-entrance to the world and all its variety of people he never thought he’d like but actually does. The near-tragedy that strikes just as he’s beginning to feel optimistic about the future. It’s extremely predictable.
That, however, doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. I was charmed, entertained and laughed out loud at some of the daring things Ove says early in the book. By the time Backman sands off his rough edges, I realized I was being entertained.
Backman brings nothing new to this story, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth hearing again.