SEVEN CIRCUMSTANCES

Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman (Translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch, Published in Great Britain by Sceptre Books, 2014)

Structure and plot

I was puzzled by why this novel was a hit with so many people. It is again, like The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson, written in a simple, highly structured way, with the same expressions and images repeated over and over and the same things happening again and again in each chapter:- the main character, “Ove”, visits his wife’s grave; he makes plans to kill himself; he has an encounter with modern society which aggravates him, for instance at the shops; he walks around the neighbourhood and taps/pulls/knocks three times on everything; and he gets interrupted by various human predicaments in mid-suicide-attempt.

Backman tries to insert some suspense in the storyline by writing about Ove’s dead wife in the present tense up to p.31, when he clarifies that Ove is not talking to a patch of ground but to a grave and that his wife has been dead six months. But it is fairly simple to predict from p.1 where the story is going to go. Even the love-hate relationship between Ove and the neighbours’ kids, a bouncy, shouty three-year-old and her more serious older sister, sounded uncomfortably close to “Gru”’s two kids in Despicable Me.

“‘Book!’, screams the three-year-old at once and rushes off…” (p.106, from A Man Called Ove)

Agnes: “He’s so FLUFFY!!!!” – rushes to the unicorn (from Despicable Me).

Character development

The characters are overly sweet and the conflict resolution just too good to be true: – the grumpy but heroic old man learns to love his fellow man and dies peacefully in his sleep; the kid from the immigrant family carries on Ove’s love of building houses; the fat tech guy next door gets himself a husband; said husband reunites with his anti-gay father; the short, dark and feisty Iranian wife of the lanky blonde neighbour, and their kids, adopt Ove as a replacement grandpa; and the mean social worker gets his comeuppance.

Themes

The themes of social injustice, immigration, and the breakdown of community in Swedish society are part of the novel, but I felt those were less important than the theme of ageing and conciliation.The characters are archetypes, rather than individuals, and though the book is meant to be humorous, I felt it lacked nuance and subtlety. It was entertaining in parts, such as Ove’s encounter with the computer salesman, though I still don’t appreciate the recurring theme of Saabs vs. Volvos vs. BMWs. In the end the story comes full circle, like in a fairy tale when the knight succeeds in the challenges set for him and returns to the castle: A new couple, with a penchant for Saabs, moves into Ove’s house and everyone lives happily ever after.


Fredrik Backman (photograph by Henric Lindsten)

About the author

Fredrik Backman, a blogger and columnist, is the author of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and A Man Called Ove. Both were number one bestsellers in his native Sweden and are being published around the world in more than twenty-five languages. You can translate his Wikipedia page from Swedish in Google.