Books: Ove

I just got back from two weeks vacation, where I had no internet access but lots of time to read books. (We spent a few days in upstate New York with relatives, back home for a day of doing laundry and repacking, then down to Branson, MO for a week.) So now I have to catch up, blogging on all the reading I’ve been doing.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, was our library book club’s selection this month. I don’t know what the rest of the group thought of it, because while they were meeting Monday evening, I was relaxing down in Branson. But I expect they liked it – it’s hard not to, once you get into it. I don’t think it’s “hysterically funny” as Kirkus Reviews puts it, but definitely funny – more of a dry humor, which I much prefer.

(Though it would be nice to know how to pronounce the main character’s name. I have seen several different versions, all with two syllables but with differences in the vowels used. Probably the Swedish vowel sounds do not have exact English equivalents.)

I wasn’t sure whether I’d like a book about a “curmudgeon with staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse” (according to the back cover). But I knew I’d have lots of time to read on vacation and I might as well take a variety of books, including something I might not take the time to read otherwise.

It’s an easy read – other than the fact that the chapters jump around in time, so for the first few chapters it can be a bit confusing trying to put events in order. Pretty soon, though, you get to recognize the storyline in the present and see how other chapters fit into Ove’s past.

Over the course of the book, a fuller picture of just what sort of man Ove is emerges. Part of his grumpiness comes from his having just been forcibly retired, but it turns out he is also grieving the loss of his wife. Other, older, losses are revealed over the course of the novel, and one sees the strength Ove has had as he dealt with them over the years.

A lot of his perceived unpleasantness, though, comes from the kind of person he has always been. He who speaks little (but his actions speak volumes), understands and appreciates practical things and has little patience with anything else, and places a high value on routines and rules.

Some readers have suggested he is on the autism spectrum. I certainly wondered about that myself. But whether or not he might have been thus diagnosed (if anyone was aware of it when he was young), the lessons are the same. He sees the world differently and acts accordingly. A gruff exterior makes it initially hard to see the goodness inside, but his actions reveal what his words do not.

Some reviews point out that, except for Ove, the characters are not all that well-developed. True enough, I suppose. But then, the entire book is told from Ove’s perspective (though not in the first person). He sees what people do, and what he needs to do, and does not spend any time either being introspective or wondering about anyone else’s personality or motivations.

All in all, it’s a very good book. Plus I can check one more book off my 2016 Reading Challenge – a book translated to English.

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