I freaking bawled my eyes out at the end of this contemporary fiction book. You need to know that if you’re to understand how I felt about this heartwarming book.
Books follow a formula. You have a character. The character has a goal, motivation to reach that goal, and conflict to prevent him from getting to that goal. For Ove, he wants to kill himself because his wife died, and he no longer wants to live. But the tricky thing about characters is there is always an internal and external conflict. Ove’s will to die is his external conflict because external forces keep preventing him from doing so.
The brilliant thing about this book?
There’s no internal conflict.
I know someone will argue this point with me, and I hope you do! Because this contemporary fiction book is so brilliantly unlike a formulaic story. Ove doesn’t change! His essential character stays the same. It’s the reader’s relationship with Ove that develops through the unraveling of the story.
Let me explain.
I listened to the audiobook and when I first started it, I said to my husband – I think I waited too long to read this. It’s all hyped up in my head, but I just don’t like it.
I powered through, and it turns out – you’re not supposed to like Ove in the beginning, because the author wants to change your relationship with Ove throughout the course of the story. This is done through the explanation of Ove’s behavior as a result of past experiences, and by the end, Ove is a beloved, adopted member of your family!
The author carefully lays a breadcrumb trail going from event to event in Ove’s life that ties into his behavior in the present. The author doesn’t say – Ove is mean to men in white shirts because he’s had bad experiences with them. Instead, Backman tells you the story of the time Ove was swindled by a man in a white shirt pretending to sell home owner’s insurance. Suddenly, you get why Ove is mean to men in white shirts. You feel it because you saw Ove go through that experience.
One may argue that Ove did change, but if you analyze Ove’s behavior, you’ll see that he was always mistakenly altruistic. From the man with the broken down car in Spain to the neighbor who can’t back up a trailer, Ove’s character remains the same.
There’s another theme that is so perfectly handled in this contemporary fiction book that it bears mentioning. Ove is a man of practicality. He deals in absolutes and works with his hands. He says he never found purpose until he had a job with a clear end result. He’s an engineer for that reason. And yet, he is so unflinchingly certain that if he kills himself, he will meet his dead wife in some afterlife. This is a wholly spiritual concept for a man of such practicality. So why does he believe this?
Because for Ove, love is the most important thing, which is downright SHOCKING when you realize it. There’s something that is revealed at the very end of the story that I won’t mention here because I don’t want to spoil it, but it solidifies the idea that to Ove, love is the most important aspect of life over ANYTHING. That’s why he does anything for his wife, Sonya. That’s why he’s willing to set aside the practicality of his life to believe in something he cannot see.
Ove is more than the grumpy old man stereotype. He reminds us that appearances can be deceiving, and people are not always what we expect them to be.
A Man Called Ove is by Sweden-based author Fredrik Backman, the author of several novels and two novellas. (And who looks amazingly like Taran Killam from SNL! I’m not kidding. Go see!) According to Backman’s website, A Man Called Ove is soon to be made into a motion picture starring Tom Hanks. As readers of this blog know, the mere mention of Tom Hanks will have me purchasing tickets immediately.
Have you read A Man Called Ove?
Tell us what you thought in the comments below – but please, no spoilers!