‘A Man Called Ove’ delivers laughs, tears

book-review

I’ve been knee-deep in reading children’s books lately because every time my daughter finishes a book, she says, “You really need to read this!” and sets it on my dresser. (My to-read pile of books is a bit embarrassing, but at least it’s not obscuring the lamp light. Yet.)

Anyway, last week I added a new book to the top of my pile — “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman, who is a Swedish columnist, blogger and writer.

The book’s main character is Ove, who is painted as a curmudgeon with “staunch principles, strict routines and a short fuse.” He’s also recently lost his job (although his boss called it retirement). But there is, as with every person we meet, a deeper story rife with sadness.

I think we all know someone like Ove — a person who seems unhappy with life, and gives the impression that everyone is annoying in some way.

When discussing this book with a friend, she said she didn’t like the book very much because he was not a sympathetic character. And he’s not.

For me, though, it’s the secondary characters who make this book so delightful — especially Ove’s new neighbors who he nicknames “the Lanky One” and “the Pregnant One.” (His first encounter with them is when The Lanky One backs over Ove’s mailbox.) These friendly neighbors barge into Ove’s very routine existence and shake up his life in a good way.

And then you start to see cracks in Ove’s hard veneer — especially when the couple’s two young girls take to this cranky neighbor and find their way into his heart despite his best
defenses.

As he starts letting more people into his life, more and more show up needing his help with this or that.

Suddenly, Ove has a reason to get up every day, whether to help the neighbor kid fix a bike, or drive the Pregnant One to the hospital when her husband (whom Ove thinks is totally inept at any home-improvement project) falls off a ladder.

(Ove is a bit of an obsessive-compulsive, and insists on covering the seats of his Saab with newspaper before letting the woman and her children into his precious car.)

Ove may not be the most heartwarming main character I’ve ever met, but he is definitely a complex one who, beneath all his gruffness, has a heart to help others.

And there’s another lesson too — we all feel better when we have a purpose to get out of bed in the morning.

For Ove, that came when new neighbors flattened his mailbox and literally drove into his life.

And then there’s also the cat, who adopts Ove and takes on such a personality that I can’t imagine the book without the friendly feline.

While I zoomed through the pages, this book had me laughing and crying.  I see now that it’s been made into a movie, which might be quite funny.

However, at least for now, I will not seek out the story on the big screen and instead stay with the characters in my  mind, who are so much richer than anything a two-hour movie could hope to convey.

— Lisa Britton, Go! staff

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