Like a lot of readers I know, I have a notebook where I keep a running list of the books I’ve read. I even record the titles of the ones that fail my 30-page test. (If I don’t like a book by page 30, I close it and move onto the next one.)
I doubt that this novel—A Man Called Ove—would have made it into my reading notebook if my friend Michelle hadn’t brought it to my attention.
I mean, what can you say about a book that stars a grumpy old man who acquires an accidental family?
A lot, as it turns out.
Ove (pronounced o-vay like okay) is Norwegian, like his author, Fredrik Backman. And the writing style owes something to its land of origin.
When I was in college, I took a course in Scandinavian literature. I found it fascinating, and came away from the class with an appreciation for the beauty of spare prose. I think it’s a reflection of the climate and geography of the home of fjords, reindeer herds, and the endless varieties of frozen water.
While Ove isn’t quite as spare as some books I’ve read, Backman packs a lot into his well-chosen words. There were points when I laughed out loud, hearing my own rants against modern technology and the mindless adherence to rules coming out of Ove’s mouth.
But if ranting was the only point to this book, it would be boring. As I learned when I was a reporter, every human story has the potential to fascinate, and Ove’s story becomes fascinating, one detail at a time.
As Backman takes us deep into this man’s life, his spare prose affords us a certain distance from his main character’s tragedies while simultaneously filling our eyes with tears.
After a while, my initial annoyance with Ove gave way to a grudging respect, and then, finally, I wanted to move in next door to him and drive a Saab.
This is a wonderful read, funny, philosophical, touching. It’s a good way to pull one’s head out of the Sturm und Drang of our daily news and remember the importance of ethics and morals in our everyday lives.
Believe me, I think it will be worth your time.