Conditions of the Heart

A Review of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

They don’t make men like Ove anymore. He’s just a man who worked at his job and loved his wife. Now at 59 his wife is dead and he’s just been forced into early retirement. As far as he’s concerned, there is nothing left to live for. So when Ove decides to do something about that, he’s pretty annoyed that one thing or another keeps gets in his way.

My Review

This is yet another “you’ll love this if you liked the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” book. As I noted in my review of The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81, Ove is no Harold Fry, and neither of them are Frank Derrick. If pressed, I’d have to say that Ove is more like Harold Fry than he is Frank Derrick. Of course, the most obvious thing that these three men have in common is that they are older men. No, not “old men,” because despite whatever ages they may be chronologically, none of them meet my criteria for actually being very old. Each of them has a purpose and their stories tell us how they try to reach their goals. In Ove’s case, he’s trying to kill himself so he can reunite with the only person who ever “got” him, his wife Sonja.

Strangely enough, Ove is actually the youngest of these three men, but is the only one looking to the end of his life. Ove does everything he can to keep people at arm’s length and even push them away, but despite this, he’s possibly the most likeable of them all. In fact, his angry demeanor, gruff way of speaking, stubbornly opinionated attitudes of right and wrong and distaste for almost everyone and everything “these days” are exactly what make us love him so much. Yes, he’s frustratingly obstinate and stuck in the past with grudges he holds onto with dear life. In fact, most people will only think of him as an angry and bitter man, and keep their distance. What he doesn’t realize is that because he doesn’t sit around and complain makes him endearing. What’s more, when he goes out of his way to act on the injustices and ineptitudes he sees around him, he ends up helping people. In short, he is a truly honest and straightforward man who lives by his principles, even if they’re outdated, old fashioned or just plain stupid.

Cover art courtesy of Sceptre Books.
Cover art courtesy of Sceptre Books.

I should mention that this is a novel translated from the Swedish, but that shouldn’t put anyone off. The translator here, Henning Koch, has done a beautiful job in bringing all of Backman’s charm and humor to the fore; so that we hardly feel that this is a translation at all, and the references to Sweden and its culture are almost totally understandable. In fact, there’s only one thing that didn’t sit completely right with me, and that was Ove’s age and his disconnect to today’s technology. Remember, this story is set in the present decade, and Ove is supposed to be only 59 years old (I’m 57, by the way). I find it hard to believe that someone only slightly older than I am is so completely and utterly clueless with these things. Yes, I know many people my age aren’t as computer savvy as I am, but not to this extent. Of course, this does fit in with Ove’s extremely old fashioned ways, so I’m willing to accept that perhaps some people in my age bracket are still this anti-modernity.

Aside from this one tiny niggle, Backman’s book is amazingly engrossing, and if you can read the last chapters without shedding a tear (or like me, blubbering like a little baby), then yours is the hardest heart of anyone in the universe. Nevertheless, before you get to the end, you’ll be giggling like a schoolgirl, if not laughing out loud. I predict that anyone who reads Fredrik Backman book will fall in love with this story and Ove in particular, and that’s why I can highly recommended it and give it a full and hearty five out of five stars! (No wonder it has been translated into Hebrew.)

NG Apple_NetGalley Health Rev 3“A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman was published July 3, 2014 by Sceptre Books, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton (a Hatchette UK company). This book is available in paperback, as well as in iBook or Nook formats or from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for giving me an advance reader’s copy via NetGalley.

(This is a revised version of the review that originally appeared on {the now defunct} Yahoo! Voices.)

About the Author
Davida is a published poet, amateur baker, a home-made ice-cream maker, an average bowler, and a chocolate gourmet (not an addict). She also has a passion for reading (despite her mild dyslexia) and writing book reviews. Her "day job" is resource development writing for the non-profit sector. Originally from Evanston, IL she made aliyah in 1978 and lives in Jerusalem with her husband and three grown-up children.
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