Sunday, November 13, 2016

Book Review: "A Man Called Ove" - Fredrik Backman

This is one of those books which seems to have been around in the public consciousness over the past couple of years. I was curious to read it as it looked like a change from the usual Nordic Noir genre which has filled bookshelves over the past few years (to saturation point at one stage).

If you're  familiar with One Foot In The Grave and its infamous grumpy protagonist  Victor Meldrew, or indeed Coronation Street's neighbourhood watching nosey parker Norris Cole, then you will recognise a lot of the characteristics of Ove, the lead character here.

Just when you've quickly got Ove sussed as the grumpy old man in suburbia, railing at everything the modern world has to offer. To begin with, the intolerant grump is not easy to like - but Backman then takes us back to the character's younger years and his early life and the circumstances which came to form his personality and develop his moral code. This helps us to understand the reasons why Ove is the way he is. Ove did find happiness with Sonja, the great love of his life.  After her loss, Ove realises he has nothing to live for; there follows a series of darkly comedic (and thankfully unsuccessful) attempts to end his life. Over the course of the book, new neighbours and characters enter his life - uninvited of course! - and they all turn out to have a very surprising impact on the lead character.

I guess that one of the lessons from this book is that (apologies for the book metaphor) you should not always judge a book by its cover, and that first impressions are not always accurate.  There is much more to Ove than you first thought.  For me, this book was also about the values of love, friendship and respect, and seeing good in people. In an ideal world, I hear you say, and well, this is a work of fiction after all.  But in a world where hate is the standard currency and hope and compassion is in short supply, we need to be reminded that goodness still exists.

My favourite books are generally non-fiction, I'm not really a fan of fiction but can honestly say this is one of the best books I've read in a long long time.  This book moved me to tears at several times, however Backman has the talent to quickly turn the tears to smiles and laughter.  Maybe it's because I was reading this book during a summer characterised by serious illness and bereavement, when my emotions were already shredded to pieces, but it's impossible not to be moved by this book.  I notice that it has been made into a film - with Rolf Lassgård perfectly cast in the lead role - but I don't think I'll be going to the cinema to see it as I will probably blub all the way through it.  And let me tell you, I'm not one of those people who cries at films either. Best to wait for the DVD I reckon :)

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