There are several imperfect characters in literature with whom readers share a love-hate relationship, but there are very few with whom we fall headfirst in love with. The protagonist of the book A Man Called Ove (pronounced as Ooh-ve) by Fredrik Backman is one such character. Published by Sceptre in Swedish (2012) and English (2013), the book traces the life of a cantankerous older man with staunch principles and rigid ideas of right and wrong. After he loses his wife to death and his job to retirement, Ove feels his purpose for living slipping away and attempts to end his life. In a story filled with raw emotions intertwined with unbelieving humor, we find ourselves sympathizing with a character we would have hated under normal circumstances and crying our hearts out as he finds a new family and regains his purpose in life.
“We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.” Fredrik Backman.
The story starts off slow and only gains pace to settle into a rhythmically-paced narrative. Ove’s character is detestable in the beginning, but like peeling the petals of a rose from its core, the book unravels his story one honorable act at a time and slowly revealing the gem of a man that he is. However, these are not the only anecdotes pulling at the strings of the readers’ hearts. Fredrik Backman narrates, in a third-person perspective, the various ways in which Ove tries to kill himself. Though not graphic, his attempts at suicide tugs at the hearts of the readers, along with making them laugh at his raw story-telling capability.
On the downside, at some moments, it feels as if Ove really does have a shadow of the villainous character that the narrator is trying to shed him off of. He performs some questionable deeds that may trigger some of the readers, including kicking a cat and leaving it to die in the cold (If you're wondering, the cat did not die). Still, while some of Ove's acts are unforgivable, they are realistic and aligned with the person he is.
Surprisingly, the best part about Ove is that he is a man present in every person’s life. He is presented as an orthodox, cranky grandparent, too judgemental and too often judged, and never really loved as they ought to be.
In this book, Fredrik Backman paints his tale with themes of love and loss, grief and acceptance, family, friendships, and integrity. Each theme is beautifully presented in what can only be described as an exhibit of magnificent story writing. It grips the reader and captivates them into turning one page after the other. I would recommend this book to everyone who hasn’t read it already, for this is a story that would carve itself in their hearts and stay with them for a very long time as a bittersweet memory.