It’s been a very long time since I wrote my last book review, but rest assured that’s not because I haven’t been reading. In fact my reading pace has kicked up a gear or two thanks to my introduction to audio books (just to be clear, I’m firmly in the camp that says audio books are not cheating, they’re just another way to get in more great stories). In light of this, I found it somewhat difficult to decide which book to review first. Looking through my list for just this year, I opted to start at the beginning, my January Book Club pick (called, by the way, The Wine and Ugg Boot Society, because we’re all class), A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.
Backman is a Swedish writer and this charming novel has all the hallmarks of that quirky Scandy style. The story follows, unsurprisingly, a man called Ove and his attempts to kill himself – yes I did say it was charming. His attempts, of which there are many and of various forms, are repeatedly interrupted by his incompetent neighbours and their incessant need for someone else, as in Ove, to do something for them. I should say, at this point, that Ove is a truly grumpy old man, on the surface at least. Think Mr Wilson from Dennis the Menace or the Jack Nicholson character in As Good As it Gets.
There’s two things that hold this novel together for me, making a fun, light-hearted and, as I said, charming story. First is the characters. Obviously Ove is the main one, but the secondary characters are fantastically well established also. Backman has given each a fullness that secondary characters often lack, and the way they weave in and out of the storyline and eventually come together gives the plot a richness and depth that it greatly needed.
The second aspect I appreciated was the structure. I’m a non-linear kind of gal and this book ticked that box. The opening scenes begin in the present, but as you progress through there are flashbacks and jumps forward. The reader is never quite given all the information up front, you have to work for it, adding pieces to the puzzle as you go. This allows the reader to predict and then predict again what, for instance, might have brought this cantankerous old man to hit a clown in a hospital. I like the interactive-ness of the style, the gradual metering out of the information so that you really only see the full picture right at the end. And then the ending that asks you, begs you, as the reader, to imagine the next bit.
Now, given that I had no real criticisms of this book I took it upon myself to scour Goodreads for the one and two star reviews – of which were only a few. There seemed to be a couple of main gripes for those who disliked this book, all of which I can understand. Firstly, the cat. It’s possible (in my opinion) one of the best literary cats ever written, but Ove does treat it abominably and the fact that it keeps returning, jumps in Ove’s car and even accompanies him to the shop is possibly an unlikely action for a stray cat. I can forgive that, others not so much. Secondly, Jimmy, one of Ove’s neighbours is fat and Ove (or Backman perhaps) continually refers to this fact. I think I agree with critics on this one, the point is hammered a little too heavily. Finally, some couldn’t warm to Ove himself (which to like this book you really have to) and considered any growth in the character or any acts of heroism to be forced on Ove by others. While this may in part be true, I don’t think it tells the full picture. I loved Ove, I could see a few people I know in Ove.
A Man Called Ove was an ideal light, summer read for me and I think it would be equally good now that the cold weather has hit the southern hemisphere and it’s time to cosy on up to that heater, cup of tea in hand and a good book to bask in. This could be just the thing.
Any other Ove fans out there (real or ficitional)? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.