I recently read a book with the slightly underwhelming title of A Man Called Ove by a new author, Fredrick Backman which is by a long way the best book I have read so far this year, and with hindsight the title is exactly right.
It is out in hardback (and probably e-book format) in July, just in time for the holiday readers but I was fortunate enough to get an advance proof copy of it through Amazon’s Vine programme.I would love to expand on the many things which made this such a pleasure to read. Unfortunately a lot of the pleasure was from the endless surprises, which I would spoil by even mentioning them.
The main character, Ove, is described as a grumpy old man, although it is a bit deeper than that. As the book goes on you realise that a lot of the grumpiness is not so much hostility as just wanting to be left to be left to do his own thing the way he wants and, just as importantly, for the rest of the world to do what it is supposed to.
There is more than a little of the the obsessive compulsive about Ove in this respect. he is annoyed that people are not following the rules and obeying signs about where you can drive and park, and also about not sorting out recycling properly – even though he objected to those rules when they were proposed. I can totally identify with that. In fact I can identify with quite a few of his opinions, which is a worry, like his attitude to wasting money and getting ripped off.
This person who just wants life to continue to a set routine, gets a new neighbour who almost seems to be deliberately intent on making life random and different. Actually, although the initial meeting was accidental, I suspect that she soon is deliberately upsetting Ove’s routine for reasons that I can’t even hint at because of spoilers.
The language used is very plain and straightforward, but it is deceptively simple. It may look like simple language but there is a lot going on underneath. For a start, although the book is written in the third person it is really told from Ove’s perspective and he is a classic unreliable narrator with all the possibilities of dramatic irony that follow from that.
For example, in the very first chapter Ove wants to buy a computer so he goes to “a shop where owners of Japanese cars come to purchase white cables”, which seems to be a perfectly accurate description of an Apple Store, but perhaps not the way I would have thought to describe it.
The publishers are very keen to draw comparisons with Jonas Jonasson’s book about hte 100-year-old man climbing through a window. Well they would, wouldn’t they? It was a very successful book so they obviously want to tempt its readers. The thing is that, for once, such claims are actually quite reasonable.
It is a quirky book by a new Swedish writer. The main character gets drawn into a series of unexpected events. It is written in a clear and uncluttered way and the chapters alternate between the ‘real’ story and the main character’s back story. The fact is that if I had been told this was by the same writer I would have no reason to doubt it, and yet it does not feel derivative at all.
The main difference is that this book is a bit more rooted in reality. While Jonasson delighted in bringing his hero into contact with a variety of celebrities and world leaders in his 100 years, Backman’s hero stays very firmly rooted in normal life, with none of the Forrest Gump-like brushes with the famous and infamous.
Instead you get one of the best descriptions of what it is like to find your perfect partner and be in love with them, and a very heartwarming story.
The way the book came to be written is quite interesting too. The character of Ove first appeared on Backman’s blog and was only made into the hero of a novel after the blog’s readers voted for that.
I really can’t recommend this enough, and I’m already looking forward to his second novel getting translated.