A Man Called Ove
A NovelBook - 2014
In this "charming debut" ( People ) from one of Sweden's most successful authors, a grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.
Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon--the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him "the bitter neighbor from hell." But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?
Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.
A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand , Fredrik Backman's novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others. "If there was an award for 'Most Charming Book of the Year,' this first novel by a Swedish blogger-turned-overnight-sensation would win hands down" ( Booklist , starred review).
From the critics
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Ove has probably known all along what he has to do, but all people at root are time optimists. We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like “if”. - p. 282
“Men are what they are because of what they do. Not what they say,” said Ove - p. 78
Her laughter catches him off guard. As if it’s carbonated and someone has poured it too fast and it’s bubbling over in all directions. It doesn’t fit at all with the gray cement and right-angled garden paving stones. It’s an untidy, mischievous laugh that refuses to go along with rules and prescriptions. - p. 60
“Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it's often one of the great motivations for the living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.”
“To love someone is like moving into a house," Sonja used to say. "At first you fall in love in everything new, you wonder every morning that this is one's own, as if they are afraid that someone will suddenly come tumbling through the door and say that there has been a serious mistake and that it simply was not meant to would live so fine. But as the years go by, the facade worn, the wood cracks here and there, and you start to love this house not so much for all the ways it is perfect in that for all the ways it is not. You become familiar with all its nooks and crannies. How to avoid that the key gets stuck in the lock if it is cold outside. Which floorboards have some give when you step on them, and exactly how to open the doors for them not to creak. That's it, all the little secrets that make it your home. "
“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.”
“. . . a laptop?” Ove shakes his head wildly and leans menacingly over the counter. “No, I don’t want a ‘laptop.’ I want a computer.”
Every morning for the almost four decades they had lived in this house, Ove had put on the coffee percolator, using exactly the same amount of coffee as on any other morning, and then drank a cup with his wife. One measure for each cup, and one extra for the pot—no more, no less.
Ove stomped forward. The cat stood up. Ove stopped. They stood there measuring up to each other for a few moments, like two potential troublemakers in a small-town bar. Ove considered throwing one of his clogs at it. The cat looked as if it regretted not bringing its own clogs to lob back.
Also drives an Audi, Ove has noticed. He might have known. Self-employed people and other idiots all drive Audis.
Suddenly he’s a bloody “generation.” Because nowadays people are all thirty-one and wear too-tight trousers and no longer drink normal coffee.
All the things Ove’s wife has bought are “lovely” or “homey.” Everything Ove buys is useful. Stuff with a function.
The little foreign woman steps towards him and only then does Ove notice that she’s either very pregnant or suffering from what Ove would categorize as selective obesity.
“Holy Christ. A lower-arm amputee with cataracts could have backed this trailer more accurately than you,”
Ove doubts whether someone who can’t park a car properly should even be allowed to vote.
“Men are what they are because of what they do. Not what they say,” said Ove.
Nowadays people changed their stuff so often that any expertise in how to make things last was becoming superfluous. Quality: no one cared about that anymore.
He believed so strongly in things: justice and fair play and hard work and a world where right just had to be right. Not so one could get a medal or a diploma or a slap on the back for it, but just because that was how it was supposed to be.
As if that was how they built the Colosseum and the pyramids of Giza. Christ, they’d managed to build the Eiffel Tower in 1889, but nowadays one couldn’t come up with the bloody drawings for a one-story house without taking a break for someone to run off and recharge their cell phone. This was a world where one became outdated before one’s time was up.
She loved only abstract things like music and books and strange words. Ove was a man entirely filled with tangible things. He liked screwdrivers and oil filters.
“You only need one ray of light to chase all the shadows away,”
“Once upon a time there was a little train,” reads Ove, with all the enthusiasm of someone reciting a tax statement.
“There’s Every human being needs to know what she’s fighting for. That was what they said. And she fought for what was good. For the children she never had. And Ove fought for her. Because that was the only thing in this world he really knew.
She liked talking and Ove liked keeping quiet. Retrospectively, Ove assumed that was what people meant when they said that people were compatible.
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.
The two men look at each other through the locomotive window as if they had just emerged from some apocalyptic desert and now realized that neither of them was the last human being on earth. One is relieved by this insight. And the other disappointed.
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Grumpy old man with a heart of gold, I loved this novel and found it quite heartwarming.
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