“She just smiled, said that she loved books more than anything, and started telling him excitedly what each of the ones in her lap was about. And Ove realized that he wanted to hear her talking about the things she love for the rest of his life.”
A Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman
A Man Called Ove opens with Ove, our protagonist and stereotypical curmudgeon, and one unfortunate electronics salesperson, as Ove attempts to purchase an “O-Pad,” with growing animosity as his woeful lack of electronic knowledge becomes apparent. The opening scene gives the reader a first glimpse at the man we will slowly grow to understand in the following chapters. Against all odds, the grouch in this scene is one half of a heart-wrenching love story. His wife, Sonja, has recently passed away, and Ove is struggling to get along alone in a world he doesn’t really understand.
Without Sonja, Ove has checked out of the world, and he has no interest in making any new friends, thank you very much. But when new neighbors move into the neighborhood and inject themselves into his life with overwhelming openness and amiability, will Ove allow himself to love and be loved?
I can’t remember the last time a book made me laugh and cry quite as much as this one. Ove and his neighbors are almost cartoonish in their interactions and Ove’s farcical outbursts, but his grief over the loss of his wife always remains poignant and present. Flashbacks throughout the book bring his marriage into sharp focus, keeping the reader ever conscious of what he has lost. Sonja, for a character existing only in flashbacks, feels remarkably fleshed out, and the sunshine inherent in her personality is a counter-balance for the stormcloud that is Ove. It’s hard not to picture her smiling and shaking her head at each of his tantrums, even in the scenes after her death.
Her friends couldn’t see why she woke up every morning and voluntarily decided to share the whole day with him. He couldn’t either. He built her a bookshelf and she filled it with books by people who wrote page after page about their feelings. Ove understood things he could see and touch. Wood and concrete. Glass and steel. Tools. Things one could figure out. He understood right angles and clear instruction manuals. Assembly models and drawings. Things one could draw on paper.
He was a man of black and white.
And she was color. All the color he had.
A Man Called Ove is about love and grief, and moving on without ever forgetting. Ove’s love for Sonja is palpable to the end, and every good thing he does seems to be in an effort to be the kind of person who deserves her love in return. Because Lord knows they’ll be hell to pay if Ove arrives in the afterlife and he hasn’t taken care of that mangy stray cat that, of course, Sonja would have loved.