A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman has been on my cyber nightstand for a long time. Then the Swedish movie popped up on Netflix. When I finished My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by the same author, it showed up as a recommended next read. Finally, the stars aligned and the Kindle version became available at Overdrive from my local library.
Ove (pronounced “Oova”) is a cranky old man, recently widowed and forced into retirement. Throughout the book we see the world through his eyes. Life is bleak and the changing world is filled with idiots. No one knows how to do anything anymore.
Here’s a sample of Ove’s worldview:
“Should one really have a driver’s license if one can’t drive a real car rather than some Japanese robot vehicle, he wonders. Ove doubts whether someone who can’t park a car properly should even be allowed to vote.”
“People didn’t know how to…brew some proper coffee. In the same way as nowadays nobody could write with a pen. Because now it was all computers and espresso machines. And where was the world going if people couldn’t even write or brew a pot of coffee?”
“People said he was bitter. Maybe they were right. He’d never reflected much on it. People also called him antisocial. Ove assumed this meant he wasn’t overly keen on people. And in this instance he could totally agree with them. More often than not people were out of their minds.”
As the book progresses, we learn Ove’s story is one of sadness, almost from the beginning. Nevertheless, the book is far from depressing because we meet Ove’s neighbors and the Cat Annoyance and see them interact in human and quite humorous ways. We feel empathy for the old grump.
This is a charming book, with many laugh-out-loud moments. I highly recommend you read Ove’s story. Then watch the subtitled movie, perhaps with the curmudgeon you love.
If, like me, you belong to book club, this book will appeal to you. It centers on a year in which the club’s theme is “The Book that Matters Most.” The members contribute the titles that matter most to them. Although they realize “it’s impossible to pick such a book. When you read a book, and who you are when you read it, makes it matter or not,” they find ten such books. The author cheated; she got to pick ten books that matter to the ten members of the club. Our book club is asked to do the same. How can I choose just one?
Ava, the main character, is facing mid-life after her husband’s affair and their recent divorce. Her friend Cate invites her to join her book club, she accepts.
“She needed most of all, the comfort of people who wanted nothing more than to sit together and talk about books.
Ava immediately knows which book mattered most to her. It’s one she read as a child, just after her mother died. The trouble is, it’s been out of print for years. No one can find it. Moreover, Ava has promised an appearance by the author who has disappeared. Or perhaps she never even existed. Then Ava’s troubled twenty-something daughter, Maggie, goes missing in Europe.
Those two compelling mysteries pull the reader through the story.
Perhaps the plot relies a little too much on coincidence for its resolution, but it was certainly enjoyable and worth recommending, if only for the discussion of the books. I’ve read two others by Ann Hood, The Red Thread and The Knitting Circle. I loved both, so I’m adding Hood to my collection of favorite authors named Ann: Ann Patchett, Anne Lamott, Anne Tyler, and Anna Quindlen.
If you had to choose the book that matters most, what would it be? Please comment below.
Aaah, where to start. I LOVED this one. Elsa, the seven (almost 8) year-old narrator is the very definition of precocious. And I think author, Fredrik Backman gets her voice just right. While Elsa is adept at looking things up on the Internet and has read a mountain of “quality literature,” her comprehension is still that of a seven-year-old. For example, her mother is pregnant with a baby who will be Elsa’s half-brother or sister. Until it is explained to her, she believes the baby will be–somehow–half a person. When “gender roles” are mentioned, she thinks they mean “gender trolls.”
Elsa and her Granny live in an apartment house, along with Elsa’s pregnant mom, mom’s boyfriend, and a host of unique, colorful and well-drawn characters who each play a part in the unfolding of this tale. Granny weaves a world of stories to help Elsa navigate the real world. But some question Granny’s suitability as a companion. When we first meet Elsa and her Granny, they are being apprehended by police in the middle of the night after breaking into the zoo. This happens after they have escaped the hospital where Granny is a patient. Granny has also been known to deter unwanted visitors by shooting them with a paintball gun from her balcony while wearing only a dressing gown.
Nonetheless, Granny understands the power of stories and what they teach us about real life and real dangers. She tries to prepare Elsa for what is to come.
Some of Granny’s lessons:
“Only different people change the world,” Granny used to say. “No one normal has ever changed a crapping thing.”
“…not all monsters were monsters in the beginning. Some are monsters born of sorrow.”
“…the real trick of life was that almost no one is entirely a shit and almost no one is entirely not a shit. The hard part of life is keeping as much of the not-a-shit side as one can.”
And what stories teach us:
“…if there is a dragon at the beginning of the story, the dragon will turn up again before the story is done. She knows everything has to become darker and more horrible before everything works out just fine at the end. Because that is how all of the best stories go.”
“People have to tell their stories…Or they suffocate.”
And the power of chocolate:
“…you can be upset while you’re eating chocolate Santas. But it’s much, much more difficult.”
Since I’m the grandmother to a super-smart seven (almost eight) year-old girl, this one went right to my heart. It’s warm, funny, wisecrack-y, sad, a little dark and scary at times, but ultimately triumphant. I can’t recommend it enough.
If the author sounds familiar, he also wrote A Man Called Ove, which has been on my TBR (To Be read) shelf for months. It may have just moved up. There is a Swedish movie of the book and an American remake in the works starring Tom Hanks.