A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Beckman
Translated by Henning Koch
I’m the kind who believes that there is a right time for every book. Of course, I don’t know the when’s and how’s. But I believe in the theory and it has been proved correct more than once. A friend recommended this book more than a year ago. It was followed by a series of recommendations by at least 15 people, if not more. I lost count, to be honest.
Each time, I gave the same reply- I’ll pick it up this weekend.
Needless to say, it never happened. As 2020 began to slip through our fingers, I got this random idea of ending the year with A Man Called Ove. It seemed fitting. Don’t ask how.
So I began reading, wondering if my super high expectations would be rewarded or not. It’s not uncommon that hyped books end up disappointing to the point where we start becoming wary of recommendations.
The rating at the beginning should be enough indication that I loved the book. It has been a long time since a book made me smile, smirk, chuckle, laugh, plunge into sadness, and end up with tears in my eyes. I knew how the book would end midway through. It left me sad even as a sense of peace descended upon my senses. That’s a perfect example of life.
I’ve read Ove being called grumpy, bitter, rude, and heartless. Yeah, he is all of those, but there is such depth in his character that it comes out layer by layer, adding a new dimension to his life. I connected with Ove long before he started showing disgruntled consideration for others. I guess, deep down, I knew he was a loner, and loners are rarely understood, much less appreciated.
The narration is simple, quirky, cheeky, and touching. It’s a combination of the narrator’s commentary and Ove’s grumpiness. It’s endearing at times and ridiculous a few other times. And this combination seemed to have worked its magic.
Yes, some scenes and descriptions weren’t as good. But it’s tough to declare that these are the opinions of the narrator and not Ove. The views seem to suit Ove’s character. His thoughts, ideas, and opinions drive the book. The book is, after all, Ove’s life story.
The storyline goes back and forth- the past written in the past tense, and the present in the present tense. We see how Ove's childhood shaped him and how his wife, Sonja, played a vital role in letting him live. It’s easy to understand his unexplainable depression when she passes away, leaving him alone in a world where no one tried to understand him.
Some characters felt stereotypical. But hey, we do come across such people in real life, and the author managed to keep them that way. That’s the biggest USP of the book. Even a two-dimensional character doesn’t seem shallow.
We see the kind of woman Sonja was through the eyes of the narrator and Ove. And it is not that surprising when Parvaneh and her little girls make way into his home and his heart. She is the kind of daughter Ove and Sonja would have wanted as their own.
Ove isn’t the only man who is different from others. Rune, Ove’s nemesis, is another man with the same tendencies as Ove. That they have a love-hate friendship is easy to understand. Two people with similar personalities clash quite often. ;)
Rune doesn’t have much of a role to play in the present, but it is his situation that brings about a more noticeable change in Ove. Having to choose between avoiding human interaction and letting a friend’s family get affected doesn’t sit well with Ove, a man who hates change and lack of order.
But we know what Ove would do even before we read it. As we read page after page, we get deeper into the story. After about 70%, nothing is surprising in the book, yet, it’s from here that we want to hug the book and cherish it. The cat’s presence is just the icing on the cake.
For a writer to achieve something as wonderful with a debut book is amazing. I also appreciate the translator for doing a great job of carrying over all the subtle emotions from Swedish to English without overhyping them.
However, I do wish the adverbs were less in number. This is a personal complaint, of course, and has nothing to do with the story.
To conclude, I feel this is one book everyone should read, but only when it is the right time. Trust your instincts and pick up the book when it calls for you. Be patient until then. The book is worth it. Happy reading and have a happy new year, readers!
About the Author: Srivalli Rekha is a blogger, writer, and amateur photographer. She got a degree in MBA and MA English Literature and chose to become a writer and a poet instead of a corporate professional.