Last week I purchased a book at nearly full price at a wonderful independent bookseller in Minneapolis. It was, of all things, a work of fiction, a genre I don’t read much. (That may be changing.)
The book is A Man Called Ove (pronounced “OOH-vuh”) by Swedish novelist Fredrik Backman.
It begins like this:
Ove is fifty-nine.
He drives a Saab. He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s flashlight. He stands at the counter of a shop where owners of Japanese cars come to purchase white cables. Ove eyes the sales assistant for a long time before shaking a medium-sized white box at him.
“So this is one of those O-Pads, is it?” he demands.
The assistant, a young man with a single-digit body mass index, looks ill at ease. He visibly struggles to control his urge to snatch the box out of Ove’s hands.
“Yes, exactly. An iPad. Do you think you could stop shaking it like that . . . ?”
Every day Ove is frustrated by a highly tech-oriented world, where IT consultants and men in white shirts run society but can’t tighten a screw or back up a moving trailer properly.
Already at 59 Ove is a grumpy old man—but not beyond hope, and maybe even lovable if the author has his way.
A Man Called Ove begins with a young family moving into the neighborhood and crashing their trailer into Ove’s mailbox. Each new day thereafter is destined to bring a new interruption to the solitary peace Ove desires.
The story is interesting, compelling, and moves along well. Beckman deftly weaves between Ove’s past and present. At first the flashbacks felt like intrusions, but then I found myself equally engaged in both the back story and the main story.
The writing is enjoyable. Backman’s use of metaphor is clever and funny. A number of chapters make use of inclusio, using the same thought (and even wording) to both open and close a scene. And the occasional clipped writing style fits well with Ove’s character, as here, where subjects drop out:
There is lots of nodding and shoving of hands into pockets—maybe just a touch more than necessary. Some coincidences, especially toward the end of the book, are a little unbelievable. And I spotted about a dozen typos, as well as a couple handfuls of places that wanted a closer edit.
Those faults do not outweigh the pleasure of reading the story. As a bonus, the layout and cover and typesetting are some of the best I’ve seen in a novel, and made me want to pick it up even more. (Though the compelling story, especially in its second half, was sufficient for keeping me engaged.)
And–get this–there’s a movie version of the book. It’s supposed to be coming to the U.S. this fall. I watched the trailer after reading the book, and it looks like it perfectly captures the essence of the characters and interactions in Backman’s story.