A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
I read it as a: paperback
Source: my own collection
Length: 337 pp
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Ove is a stereotypical curmudgeon, which is a terrific word anyway, isn’t it. He is cranky, he feuds with his neighbors for not following the posted signs or the rules of the neighborhood association, and he just wants to be left alone. Really, what he wants is to die, and he has his own reasons for wanting that which are no one else’s business. But things keep happening that piss him off just enough to keep him engaged and living, and he knows from long experience that if he doesn’t handle it, it will never get done right. Such as teaching the new neighbor how to back up a trailer so he doesn’t run over his mailbox. Again. Or teaching the neighbor’s wife how to drive because the neighbor fell off a ladder and broke himself and needs someone to drive him around. Or teaching the local barista how to fix a bike so he can give it to his girlfriend. Or do battle with a corrupt White Shirt (Ove’s version of two by two, hands of blue) determined to forcibly remove a neighbor with Alzheimer’s to a nursing home against the wishes of the family. Along the way, even though Ove is a cranky old sod (he really isn’t), it becomes clear that he has a deep and painful past and that it’s always the quiet ones who are the most interesting, the ones you have to keep your eye on, and who care the deepest even if they don’t make a spectacle about it.
This was such a touching book. People who say nothing much happened didn’t pay attention. The people who disliked it just because Ove didn’t like the cat (or Jimmy, or the kid who couldn’t repair his own bike, etc) totally missed the point. I feel bad for those people. Ove looked past the exterior of people and saw the good in them, despite not being able to do things he thought they should be able to do for themselves. If they didn’t know something, he taught them. He was rough on the outside, but at heart he was a true teacher and went out of his way to help people when he didn’t have to. In the end, the community realized they were the ones who had been wrong about Ove all along.
Also, this book made me miss my grandad, even though he wasn’t a curmudgeon. But in a lot of ways, Ove reminds me of him anyway.
Some of my favorite lines (behind the cut in case of spoilers):
- People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.
- He’d discovered that he liked houses. Maybe mostly because they were understandable. They could be calculated and drawn on paper. They did not leak if they were made watertight; they did not collapse if they were properly supported. Houses were fair, they gave you what you deserved. Which, unfortunately, was more than one could say about people.
- Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn’t.
- “What’s that?” … “It’s Nasanin’s drawing. … She’s drawn you,” Pervaneh replies, shoving it into his hands. Ove give the paper a reluctant look. It’s filled with lines and swirls. “That’s Jimmy, and that’s the cat, and that’s Patrick and me. And that’s you,” explains Parvaneh. When she says that last bit she points at a figure in the middle of the drawing. Everything else on the paper is drawn in black, but the figure in the middle is a veritable explosion of color. A riot of yellow and red and blue and green and orange and purple. “You’re the funniest thing she knows. That’s why she always draws you in color…”
- It was as if he didn’t want other people to talk to him, he was afraid their chattering voices would drown out the memory of her voice.
- It is difficult to admit that one is wrong. Particularly when one has been wrong for a very long time.
- As Ove stood in the doorway getting ready to leave, the seven-year-old carefully tugged at his shirtsleeve and pointed at a drawing on the wall right next to him. “That’s your house,” she whispered, as if it was a secret between her and Ove.
- Ove…put up the photo on the fridge. Right next to the riotous color drawing the three-year-old had made of him on the way back from the hospital.
- The girl, who is now and eight-year-old, stays in the hall, touching the iPad box with amazement. As if she hardly dares believe that she’s actually got it in her hands. Ove leans towards her. “That’s how I always felt every time I bought a new car,” he says in a low voice. She looks around to make sure no one can see; then she smiles and gives him a hug. “Thanks, Granddad,” she whispers and runs into her room.
- Love is a strange thing. It takes you by surprise.