It’s not often I experience a book that has me crying honest-to-goodness wet variety tears. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman had me in those tears.
I was riding my bike home during the last chapter and really struggled. The tears were not the tears you would have had reading A Little Life. These were bitter sweet tears, tears you cry because the pain of loss and love is so very familiar and so easy to relate to. This is a story of people that you know, people that you are, or have been at some stage of your life. There is a deep familiarity about the people in this book. And that might seem all the stranger when you think these people live in Sweden and the book is a translation. The way these people are captured is just so intensely relatable.
Within the first chapter I felt I knew Ove. I think all of us have a little Ove in us at some stage in our lives about at least one issue. There is something that irks us about the way other people behave, the lack or respect, the failure to follow the same rules everyone else has to follow. There is a little bit of Arnold Rimmer form Red Dwarf in Ove – but he’s less officious and a lot more complex. And considerably more loyal.
Ove is a particular kind of person. He doesn’t make friends easily, he has his own mind on things. But when he is devoted, as he is to his wife, then there is no stronger love and devotion than the kind a man like Ove can give.
A Man Called Ove is set in Sweden in the modern era. Ove’s interaction when attempting to by an ipad is at the very start of the book and beautifully captures the experience many older folk must go through as they struggle to keep up with the pace of change.
Ove is befriended, by force of will more than anything else, by a new neighbour, Parvaneh, and her family. Mostly through Parvaneh’s intervention Ove is also seduced into friendship by the rest of the gentle cast, and a stray cat. Each of them in turn intervene, knowingly or otherwise, preventing his careful plans to end his life and be reunited with his late wife.
The scene where Ove teaches Parvaneh to drive resonated with me so strongly. I didn’t learn to drive until my mid twenties. The whole concept was really tough for me. I had a good long cry after my first lesson. Ove’s speech to Parvaneh was just beautiful, tough and honest.
This story illustrated that some people may be hard to get to know, and harder still to keep knowing, but if you do you may discover untold richness in the relationship you find. Theser are the people that will have your back every time, and go to fight for you when needed, without you ever having to ask.
I’ll be buying copes of this book for some of the people I love most for Christmas this year.