In Which I Fall in love with Ove {Book Club}

We meet Ove in A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman trying to buy a computer that is not a computer. In my notes I wrote “the interaction between the salesclerk and Ove was so deliciously written I felt like I was standing a few feet away at the counter waiting to be helped and trying not to chuckle.”

From the back cover of the book we learn “At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet, a curmudgeon with staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People think him bitter, and he thinks himself surrounded by idiots.”

What the cover does not say and lets you discover is this: the author is a masterful storyteller. Ove’s disgust or annoyance is palpable. That a cat can have such a presence in so few scenes?! Masterful. And that grief leaves a person adrift in their own lives, relatable.

The writing is brilliant—and all the more impressive because it is translated from Swedish. The word choice is so masterful, I’m curious if it is even more spot-on in Swedish. Which is hard for me to imagine.

We are only a quarter of the way in having read chapters one to nine for today.

From a story/writing perspective, this is why I’m gushing:

1. The character development already! There is enough flashback to give us a sense of what has formed Ove into the person he is, but not so much I feel whiplash. Past, present, past, present. Whip, whip, whip. We also see enough of Ove that is endearing—to give that wallet back as a kid, to lose his mom at age eight and eat boiled potatoes with his dad, then after his dad died, to work two weeks to cover for his dad—to want to find out who will help him navigate life without Sonja.

2. If someone has been in Ove’s life for a while, he knows their name. Tom, Rune, Anita, Jimmy, Anders, and of course, Sonja. Others, however have nicknames: the lanky one, the pregnant one, Weed, and the two girls (though Nasanin has made sure Ove knows her name).

3. The chapter titles are clever. As you know, every one of them uses Ove’s name (way to anchor us, the reader in both a familiar cadence and in who this story is about). And there is enough foreshadowing that I want to read. More than once I told myself, “Okay, just one more chapter” after I had planned for that chapter to be the last one :).

I ache for how Ove was forced to retire, especially after a life of loyal service. Don’t you wish you had met Sonja? What a difference her presence made in his life.

I enjoy the interaction between Ove and Parveneh. “The little foreign woman steps toward him and only then does Ove notice that she’s either very pregnant or suffering from what Ove would categorize as selective obesity.” Ha! He can’t bring himself to say he likes her, I don’t think he does yet, but twice he has noted that he is a little less annoyed by Parveneh.

And the way that she can call him back to his better self, his true self. I imagine Sonja did the same.

So, this week is “Welcome to the field” week here at Velvet Ashes and I’ve been thinking about the themes of new “fields” people are entering in this book:

  • Ove is still new to being a widower
  • Ove is shockingly new to being retired, all the more stunning because he hadn’t planned on retiring
  • Patrick, Parveneh, and their children are new to the neighborhood
  • Patrick and Parvenah’s family is about to go from man-to-man defense to zone defense
  • And let’s not forget the cat . . . who seems to be new to the neighborhood

Even though Ove is trying to kill himself to be with Sonja, I don’t think he really wants to die. Does he miss her and want to be with her? Absolutely. He needs purpose and connection (like we all do!).

Are you as taken with Ove as I am? What do you think of the writing? Have you laughed? Let’s talk in the comments!

Amy

A Man Called Ove
August 8: Chapters 1-9
August 15: Chapters 10-19
August 22: Chapters 20-29
August 29: Chapters 30-The End

21 Comments

  1. Michele August 7, 2017

    I also absolutely fell in love with Ove and I had the same thoughts about the writing, amazed that this is a translation! I laughed out loud several times, and I’m not sure when a book last made me do that. Yet, thinking it was going to just be a light, funny story, I was surprised at how deep it started to get. What seems to be an intended theme or lesson is that we should take time to know someone before judging their character. I couldn’t help thinking of some of the ‘grumpy old men’ who’ve passed through my life, and wondering what their stories are. I think that can definitely apply to the welcome theme this month: One of the best things about those first months on the field are the consciousness we have (or should have) that we don’t get the people around us at all and there is more to learn, not just about overall culture, but about each one’s story- including our teammates’ stories!

    1. Amy Young August 8, 2017

      Michele, I agree. There is a lightness, yet great depth to this book. Good point to spend the time investing in teammates and getting to know the foundations of their stories. Those foundations will play out as their (our) stories are then added to over the months and years.

  2. Kim August 7, 2017

    This book has been totally delightful! I agree with what you said about the characterization! Phenomenal! I am so looking forward to reading the rest and seeing how the community develops (cat included!).

    1. Amy Young August 8, 2017

      Glad you’re enjoying 🙂 . . . and yes, who knew a cat could be so engaging when it really isn’t in the book THAT much 🙂

  3. Sarah Hilkemann August 7, 2017

    Ove is a wonderful character but he makes me sad. I have met many people like him that come across as cross or gruff but really they need someone to show friendship and love, yet how quickly we tend to get frustrated or make fun of people instead. How many times do I dismiss someone rather than seek to understand or think about the lonliness or grief that might be stirring in their hearts? I hesitated to get this book because it was a little bit expensive but am SO glad I did. 🙂 It was be lovely to keep reading along with everyone.

    1. Amy Young August 8, 2017

      Sarah, I knew the price may throw some people off (and I GET THAT!), but I’m glad you bought Ove :)!!!

  4. Raven August 8, 2017

    I’m liking Ove thus far, but I can’t help but picture him as a similar version of Carl from “Up”! So determined and set in his ways in wanting to keep his environment in order and life in general. When he is preparing his envelope of documents I was interested to see what made the cut. Namely important receipts and the service history of the Saab. Not what I would imagine. I also like the relationship between Ove and Parveneh, too. I think they are secretly exactly alike.

    Loving this book so far! I did a digital checkout from my library in the States, so I’m hoping I can finish it in the 2 weeks I have it!

    1. Amy Young August 8, 2017

      I saw “Up” years ago, and so I don’t really remember Carl :). I’ll take your word for it. Have you read “The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry”? Harold and Ove remind me of each other. So glad we are reading together 🙂

    2. Sarah Hilkemann August 14, 2017

      Raven, I have been picturing Ove as Carl from “Up” also! 😉

  5. sarah August 8, 2017

    This book has a really special place in my heart. I laughed and cried my way through the whole thing one long night last Spring as I anxiously awaited a call from my mom to tell me how my dad’s Major and Scary back surgery in the States had gone. It really was the perfect blend of funny and moving to keep me fully engaged as I waited and waited.
    And just before I got to the end, I got the happy call that the surgery was over and my dad was OK. 🙂
    Ove’s the best!

    1. Amy Young August 8, 2017

      Sarah!!! I love hearing stories of where someone was when they read a book. I can imagine that this book was a good companion on a stressful evening — what with Sonja having died (please, not my dad!) and Ove being an older man (please, God, let this be my dad) . . . and then the combo of deep, yet also humorous. I’m glad your dad was okay!!

      1. sarah August 8, 2017

        Thanks! Yeah, exactly!
        This book- all of Ove’s compounded grief and loss, actually really helped me start to process my compounded grief and loss. It’s deep. And, in it’s way, it’s a good ‘transitions’ book.
        And, oh so funny!! I love how the cat and the neighbors slowly worm their way through his defences. 🙂

  6. Christy August 8, 2017

    I absolutely loved this book. I haven’t been on VA for a long time and didn’t know you were reading it, but I’m happy you are! I loved the writing, the relationships, and the message of the book. In thinking about the theme of “welcome to the field” I have found myself reacting to situations in a very Ove-like manner this year. It is my 5th year at the same place, where typically people only stay 2 years or maybe 3 if they are feeling really committed. I have found myself increasingly grumpy about people coming in to my world that I want to keep within my ordered, strict routine and they don’t understand it at all because they weren’t around for all the history. So I needed the reminder of Ove and what it means to open up your life and let people in even when you really don’t feel like it. This makes me think I should reread the book now.

    1. Amy Young August 9, 2017

      Christy thanks for your thoughts on how each of us is capable of becoming “Ove” like towards others on the field. I know that there were seasons I certainly was more Ove like than I’m delighted to admit :). Good reminder!

  7. Kiera August 8, 2017

    I am back into book club after a hiatus and am enjoying this one lots so far. I didn’t actually know it was a translation (glad you mentioned that, Amy), and yes, I agree that it makes it that much more masterful. It is making me think of the Gran Torino movie premise, though I didn’t like that movie as much as I am enjoying the book. At times I agree with Ove, (“they’d managed to build the Eiffel Tower in 1889, but nowadays one couldn’t come up with the drawings for a one-story house without taking a break for someone to run off and recharge their cell phone” Ha!) and at other times I know I would be in the category of people he looks down on – I have no idea how to “install a dimmer switch. Lay some tiles. Plaster a wall. File [my] own taxes.” He’s a character at an extreme and yet still very likeable. I am enjoying the interaction between Ove and Parveneh and her family. And the cat….I have ideas about where that’s going but we shall have to see. 🙂

    1. sarah August 8, 2017

      Yeah! This book also really reminded me of Gran Torino! (Tho, a bit less traumatic).

    2. Ruth August 9, 2017

      I didn’t realize it was a translation, either!

    3. Amy Young August 9, 2017

      Kiera! So glad you’re back :). I hadn’t thought of the Gran Torino link, but now that you point it out, I see it!

  8. Ruth August 9, 2017

    I have to say that I don’t love Ove, yet (I’ve not read the whole thing). I’m sympathetic to him, he is obviously grieving many losses. And he is also a bit annoying to me. But I’m glad his rope broke! I’m looking forward to seeing where this book goes.

    1. Amy Young August 9, 2017

      Oh he is quite annoying, I agree Ruth. He would be difficult to have as a neighbor or teammate — that strong sense of the “right” way to do something. I’m sure he would not like my “messy middle” philosophy 🙂

  9. Bayta Schwarz August 9, 2017

    I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages so I’m glad it’s finally happening! And it’s definitely living up to expectations!

    It’s amazing how the author really makes us dislike Ove at first but at at the same time gives enough glimpses of his other side that made me want to know more. Oh how I wish I wasn’t equally as quick to judge people in realy life, without knowing anything of their story… Thinsg often look so different when we know some of the things that have shaped a person’s life. I wonder if Ove will realise that too – all those men in white shirts, the IT guys – they’re all people with stories as well…

    Also, I find it so moving how much of a presence Sonja still is in his life. So much so that it took a while before I even realised she had passed away. I feel she would have been a great person to knwo, and I can’t wait to hear more of their story.

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