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!
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