Book Review: A Man Called Ove

I had no idea this book existed. And I am eternally grateful to the rather buggy and slow Goodreads for bringing this book into my life at all. Although I don’t participate a great deal in contests (I NEVER participate), I had recently discovered a section called Giveaways. One day, I idly clicked on it, because I needed something concrete to procrastinate to, as I avoided work like the plague. And I picked a giveaway completely at random, and entered.

A week later, I received an email saying I had won. I was astounded. I never win anything, and that’s why I don’t participate in contests. (Not the other way around, really!) And some time after the notification, I received the book.

I was marginally pleased about receiving the book, no doubt, but I hadn’t heard any buzz about the book. So I wasn’t overjoyed or anything. But then I posted a picture of the book on Instagram, and the most surprising person responded. One half of a hipster-style couple, opinionated, artsy, and therefore rather stuck up opinion-wise. Why would he comment, I thought?

So I picked up the book to read it. And fell in love.

Author: Fredrik Backman

Story: Ove is the very definition of a cantankerous curmudgeon. The world rarely meets with his approval, and he is blunt to a fault. He sets himself high standards and has strong principles, and therefore utterly fails to understand the flaws and weaknesses of other people.

He lives in a house, surrounded by other very similar houses. His daily routine is set in stone and his days proceed on a predictable and predetermined course. Until a new family moves into one of the neighbouring houses. And his neatly ordered universe proceeds to get completely upended.

Writing: The writing is exquisite. It is a masterful blend of emotion, pathos, humour, and a myriad other feelings. The characters come to life with vivid descriptions and actions. They grow into real people with real problems and reactions in front of your eyes. There are some villainous characters, but they are very much on the fringes, and only serve to move the plot forward. The true heft of the story is carried on the shoulders of extremely lovable characters.

Characters: Wonderful characters, drawn in exquisite but not exhausting detail. At the end of the book, a reader knows a lot more about each character than they could have ever realised. I found myself chuckling along at a moment, because Parvaneh and Ove were such conspirators.

But more than anything else, I loved that the characters grew. There was so much change in Ove’s life, and how his neighbours affected him against his stubborn will was a beautiful thing to behold.

Pace: There is no getting bored with this book. It shuttles between the present day and Ove’s past, and the chapter blend was perfect. Each glimpse into his past built Ove’s character more, giving it colour and dimension, getting the reader to understand why this person turned out the way he did.

Conclusion: I have been recommending this book to everyone who asks me for a recommendation. I love it. It has become one of my all-time favourites.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩✩

PS: I read a review on Goodreads about how, in the reviewer’s opinion, the writer was biased towards fat people because of how Ove’s reactions to a portly neighbour were described. In the same review, the disgruntled reader waxed eloquent about his cruelty to cats and the incorrect behaviour patterns of the cat. And these two points were enough to get her to hate the book.

I read the review before I read the book, and even though I tried not to be, I was unfavourably disposed towards the book. I saw the bits that gave rise to her comments, but I disagree with her completely. Ove is a bit rough and blunt by nature. He doesn’t do niceties. Yes, he is derisive of fat peoples’ habits, but that’s his character. In fact, in spite of his somewhat mild biases, it doesn’t stop him from doing the right thing by the very same people he appears to disapprove of. That is excellent character depiction. People are not saints, and they have flaws. Ove has too.

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