Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Graphic by Irfan Khan

“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was the colour, all the colour he had.”

Set in Sweden, A Man Called Ove is a moving story of a 59-year-old man who has recently been forced to quit his job. Various events in his life leave him embittered. The book follows the journey of his transformation into the compassionate and generous man he once used to be.

Ove has been described as “grumpy”, “cranky”, and “a bitter neighbour from hell” by his neighbours. He is critical of authoritarian “white-shirts”, as he not so fondly calls them. He also does not hesitate in calling out people whenever he finds them doing something wrong. But behind his hard exterior is a poignant tale of grief and loss. The demise of his beloved wife, Sonja, has made him feel lost and empty. He likes to be alone and does not enjoy the presence of anyone around him. Having lost the will to live, he attempts suicide numerous times only to fail every time, much to his dismay. 

Over the course of the story, Ove’s life takes a comical turn when a couple and their daughter come to live next door. He is constantly disturbed by his new neighbours as they stir havoc and intrude every time he decides to kill himself. However, as the story progresses, Ove develops a strong bond with them, especially with the kid who arouses the parental instinct in Ove’s heart. 

The story constantly juggles between the past and the present. The flashbacks describe Ove’s struggles in his early years, both personally and professionally, the bond he shared with his father and his beloved car, Saab. His meeting with Sonja and their eventual marriage is one of recent times’ most beautifully narrated love stories. The numerous suicide attempts turn into hysterical episodes leaving the reader in splits. Every major and minor character exhibits a unique persona, having a role in shaping the way Ove perceives the world.

It is not a typical love story. Rather, it is a story of love, a story of grief, sadness, and intricate human connections tied in with a dash of humour. Fredrik Backman will make you smile, sympathise with the old man, burst into laughter, and cry with your hand over your heart all at the same time. Backman has mastered the craft of comprehending human emotions and adding philosophical elements to his distinctive storytelling. There are various thought-provoking quotes in the novel that stay with you for the longest time. It is safe to say that the author keeps you hooked from the first chapter itself. One cannot resist falling in love with the story of Ove.

Since its release, the novel has been adapted into a Swedish movie in 2015 and an English adaptation is also on its way. If you have enjoyed A Man Called Ove and the storytelling of Fredrik Backman on intricate human connections, you can also check out his other novels, Anxious People (2019) and Bear Town (2016).

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