A few years ago, A Man Called Ove topped the New York Times best seller list. I’m not surprised. This is what I can only call a “feel-good” book. The Ove of the title is planning his own suicide but is interrupted when the new neighbours’ trailer backs up into his flower bed.
A childless widower still grieving his recently deceased wife and a dedicated driver of Saabs; estranged from his friend and neighbour Rune, who was dedicated to Volvos but now has dementia; Ove lives in a town house complex of which, until he was manipulated out of office, he was once head of the residents’ association. He still conducts daily inspections of the complex.
Don’t be misled by the book’s apparent light-heartedness; this is not a light-weight novel. Backman sets the novel in Sweden, but the world of sub-divisions, bureaucrats, unruly neighbours, rental trucks, changing technologies, and shopping at IKEA is instantly recognisable. As is the world cross-generational incomprehension and of cultural misunderstanding and acceptance. And then there is the cat. Enough said.
Backman’s use of chapters with descriptive summary titles recalls traditional novels such as Fielding’s Joseph Andrews or Tom Jones. Ove may be fifty-nine when first we meet him, but, in many ways, he is almost as naïve as Joseph Andrews. Further, Backman’s handling of free indirect discourse is masterly in allowing us to see things through Ove’s eyes while also invoking a subtle, understanding irony. We understand more than he does. We, like Ove’s new neighbour Parveneh, understand him a little better than he understands himself. This is a book that celebrates the good that is in us all, reminds us of the many faces of love, and argues that life is worth living.