A Man Called Ove (2013) by Fredrik Backman is the story of a grumpy, old man. And yet, I am indignant that he’s only fifty-nine! That’s not considered old in 2013. FYI, Brad Pitt is 54. As a matter of fact, check out all the people in Hollywood in Ove’s age range! A 59 year-old today would certainly not be as technologically challenged as Ove is, especially if they were still working until that age. My parents and all their friends and every other 60+ person I’ve met does not yet fall into this ‘fuddy-duddy’ category that Ove is embodying. You need to be at least 75 for this musty, ‘new-fangled’ anti-technology layer to set in. (Although, TBH, I believe I’m there already). Anyway, the point is that the protagonist is “the sort of man who checks the status of all things by giving them a good kick”.
“He was a man of black and white. And she was colour. All the colour he had”.
This age thing is only part of the reason why I had to go double-check that A Man Called Ove is not considered YA. To a teenager, 59 would seem quite elderly. As a 25 year-old I know better. The other reason is that the writing is extremely straightforward and simple. This made it easier to read, that’s true, but it’s lacking a bit of the sophistication that we’ve become accustomed to in our book club choices. It’s also been a while since I’ve read anything that’s so obviously “white male”. He unabashedly showed us all the little prejudices this class of privilege holds, and did not hesitate making generalisations.
“Nowadays people are all thirty-one and wear too-tight trousers and no longer drink normal coffee. And don’t want to take responsibility. A shed-load of men with elaborate beards, changing jobs and changing wives and changing car makes. Just like that. Whenever they feel like it”.
The book ambled between amusing and saddening. It was quite an emotional roller-coaster. Actually, roller-coaster is too strong a word. It was more like a tea-cup ride at the fair. Backman’s shrewd, droll remarks are both accurate and funny. He eked out a few chuckles and a couple of tears.
“No one does that anymore, no one takes responsibility. Now its just computers and consultants and council bigwigs going to strip clubs and selling apartment leases under the table. Tax havens and share portfolios. No one wants to work. A country full of people who just want to have lunch all day”
Let me just state for the record that I very much would like to have lunch all day. His old-man, sarcastic comments do give us insight into the way we function today. You could extract a commentary on consumerism, on the way we are losing touch with tactile things. iPads and IKEA seem to be two major motifs.
“If you could just go and buy everything, what was the value of it? What was the value of a man?”
The book shows us the importance of human connections and human interaction. Friendships, spouses, communities are what keep us all going. This is a beautiful sentiment that I agree with wholeheartedly. I also like how he kept bringing up the importance of Doing The Right Thing.
“Every human being needs to know what she’s fighting for. That was what they said. And she fought for what was good”
I’ve read My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises, which I actually enjoyed more. He wrote it after writing Ove. It still has the incredibly sweet way of treating heavy topics like death. It’s also a beautiful rendering of mundane events, which I guess is his specialty – finding what’s special in normal people. I would definitely pick up another one of his novels in the future.
“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’ “.
If you wear your heart on your sleeve, this is a book for you. If you prefer a complicated plot and clever prose, then look elsewhere. His writing is simple but enchanting. I wouldn’t say this is the best book of the year, nor would I say everyone has to go out and read it right this second. But it’s quietly charming and bittersweet.