A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Meet Ove: a veritable stick in the mudslide of human advancement. Ove can’t tell the difference between an iPad and a computer, but he can fix a fan heater. Ove might pass judgement on anyone driving a fancy car, but he does know how to repair one. Ove is, essentially, the grumpy neighbour-type, futilely rebelling against a world so developed that people no longer rely on their own two hands to get things done – the sort of individual you might call an ‘old codger’ under your breath. The beauty of Swedish writer Fredrik Backman’s debut novel, however, is that he humanises Ove in such a marvellous way that by the end of the novel, you are unequivocally on his side.

A Man Called Ove is a light read; the characters are relatively simple portrayals and, apart from Ove, they don’t attempt to break out of the roles Backman has designated them. That being said, this by no means takes away from the depth or message of the novel. A Man Called Ove essentially calls out the dangers of living in a society that focuses more on thought than action, and highlights the risk of imprisoning oneself in grief. These two messages, however, are lightened through Backman’s love of similes that are scattered throughout: ‘Amel slashes at the consonants so that they hop about like naughty children caught inside the sentence’; and the hilarious situations Ove finds himself caught up in.

A Man Called Ove strikes me as a contemporary version of Oscar Wilde’s famous 1888 fable The Selfish Giant. A genuine classic of the day, it would not surprise me if Ove followed in its large footsteps.

Samuel Zifchak