Life is hard for everyone. There is disappointment, failure, and loss. While the hardships make some people kinder and more empathetic, they make others hard and defensive. Ove, a 59-year-old man, is one of the latter. The death of his wife– the only person he loved and who loved him back–plunges him into a state of soul-sucking grief that turns him into a cranky, impossible old man.
Ove is bad-tempered, opinionated and wants everything to be just right. He dislikes his neighbours, regards government officials with suspicion and kicks stray cats out of his way. People call him ‘the bitter neighbour from hell’.
For years, the only person he truly knew had been Sonja, his wife. Even though she is no more, he holds entire conversations with her. And when he loses his job, he plans to join her right away. But the relationships that he is thrust into rather unwillingly end up bringing about a change in him. It is this unexpectedly heart-warming story that blogger-turned-author Backman tells in A Man Called Ove.
The story, set in Sweden, is presented in the form of chapters, each of which reads like a short story–an anecdote from Ove’s life. The reader is familiarised with the nature of the titular character in the initial chapters. The vivid descriptions and quippy dialogues have the reader laughing out loud, in turn making Ove a difficult and yet endearing character.
His life begins to change the day a new family moves in next door. They’re cheery and chatty and, as one would expect, Ove dislikes them straight off the bat. However, he finds himself going to their aid constantly as they settle down in the neighbourhood. His interaction with them starts off as entertainingly disastrous and gradually turns warm and meaningful.
The reader is gradually introduced to Ove’s heart-wrenching pain. His general crankiness is explained, as we learn about his grief. Laughing and smiling with the adventures Ove gets into with the neighbours’ little girls, we start to understand and adore him with all his quirks. And it only gets better as he begins to recover, heal and become happier.
Indeed, the complicated emotions an individual experiences on his road to recovery are at the heart of this emotional tale. Backman’s engaging style makes us feel like we are direct witnesses of Ove’s healing.
This is exactly why, when the inevitable happens in the end, the reader is most likely welling up. Even then, it’s as much a tale about healing as it is about hurting, as much about rebuilding relationships as it’s about isolation. It always keeps you hoping, rooting for Ove. Even these last moments are not altogether without irony. Here too, Backman’s wry humour will make you smile through your tears.
The depth of emotion is the best part of the book. The author’s simple yet effective use of language makes sure the reader really connects with Ove and his journey through a difficult period in his life. It helps us understand grief and the many ways in which it manifests itself. It helps us realise that deep within us all is the urge to keep living. For this and so many other things, A Man Called Ove is a must-read.