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December 8, 2016

Grumpy & Heart-warming?: A Review of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

by Emily Morley

May 2015; Washington Square Press; 9781476738024;
ebook & print (337 pages); humor & satire  
I am so late to the party when it comes to reading this book.

My friends read it before me.

And my sister.

And all of my aunts.

My mom and her book club read it before me.

I hesitated to pick up A Man Called Ove for one single reason: who would want to read about a grumpy—nay, bitter—old man for hundreds of pages? Who would want to write about him for that long? Apparently, Fredrik Backman did, but that wasn’t enough to convince me. I wasn’t going to read it, but my mom was so enthralled by it that she’d read passages to me over the phone and laughed out loud in the process. I had to give it a chance.

Set in Sweden, the novel revolves around Ove, a 59-year-old man who’s recently lost his wife, Sonja, and his job. If this wasn’t grim enough, he also plans to kill himself. What’s the point without Sonja? He has no children, no friends. He’s surrounded by idiotic neighbors—including a new family that moves in next door—and hates them all passionately.

It’s hard to like Ove at first. His harsh sarcasm feels like teenage melodrama. No one can do anything right. Everyone is an idiot. Why can’t anyone learn how to do things properly? I get the feeling that Backman was striving for an attitude akin to Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino ( but misses the mark. These thoughts—grumbling about virtually everything—swirl around Ove’s head like a dark storm for much of the novel.

They’re also the thing keeping him alive.

Whenever he gets close to killing himself, he worries about what people might think, or broods about the injustice of life, or burns with the ever-fresh hatred of his rival and nemesis, Rune.

It takes a long time, but Backman does reward readers with more insight into Ove. It’s not the “break open the shell to see the big softie inside” bit that we’re familiar with. Ove may have a shell, but he’s not that soft on the inside. Life has made him tough all the way through.

I have to admit putting this book down halfway through. The story felt stale to me. If Ove was growing or changing in any way, I wasn’t seeing it. He’s so guarded that even the narration only hints at his true feelings. The other stumbling block was my lack of knowledge about Swedish healthcare and social services. It’s quite different than the policies in the U.S., and profoundly effects Ove at the end of the story. I can’t complain too much since Backman is, in fact, Swedish, and the novel was first published there, but it did slow me down.

Still, this novel left me feeling a bit let down. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t bad. From all the rave reviews, I was just expecting it to be great.

Buy A Man Called Ove at Amazon

Born and raised in Michigan, Emily Morley is an artist and aspiring author who’s been writing and illustrating books since she was six years old. She gravitates towards fantasy (hello, fellow Harry Potter fans) and books about complicated characters overcoming the impossible. She’s also an avid traveler who’s managed to read on six continents and hopes to add the seventh soon. When she is home, she likes to curl up with a huge cup of steaming tea and a good, thick book. 

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