First there was a Norwegian called Ove Knausgaard winning plaudits for his
autobiographical collection of six books under the umbrella title My Struggle. Now we have A Man Called Ove, Swedish this time, written by blogger and columnist Fredrik Backman which sold more than 500,000 in his native country and turned into an international bestseller. In theory, it’s pretty formulaic stuff: grumpy old man lives alone, no friends. Drives his neighbors crazy with his authoritarian attitude to the communal area serving their homes. Grumpy old Ove is not very successfully coming to terms with the death of his wife. She was the love of his life, and, strangely he still thinks, he was of hers.
When he is not harassing his neighbors, he is considering ways in which he might end his life because, forcibly retired and without his Sonja, what is there to live for? Then, totally uninvited, into his life comes a succession of people (and one cat) who are as unlike Ove as it is possible to be. Resentfully, occasionally angrily, he comes to their aid until, when it is he who is in need, it turns out he has a whole lot of friends.
So far, so predictable. And yet, A Man Called Ove manages to overcome the inherent flaws. It’s smaltzy yet perceptive. And funny. And is crying out to be referred to as “life-affirming”. Suffice it to say reading A Man Called Ove will make you feel sad in a very contented sort of way.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is published by Sceptre. Artwork by Sturt Krygsman.