Book review: Grumpy, lonely and sad. Do you know a man like Ove?
A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman’s 2014 international bestseller, is the story of an old man struggling with change and loss.books Updated: Jun 19, 2017 12:14 IST
The quality of fiction is said to be on a decline globally with non-fiction garnering greater attention as well as market share. This 2014 international bestseller that has just been published in India is proof to the contrary.
A Man Called Ove is one of those rare books – simple and lucid, with little aesthetic nuances that the fiction genre is fast losing. Every ideal fiction title is a product of the immense creativity that goes into shaping its plot, characters and language. Fredrik Backman combines all of these aspects to turn this novel into a true classic for the next generation.
Backman’s creative genius is best reflected in Ove, his grumpy protagonist. Nearly 60, the ill-tempered Ove is not your usual protagonist – ever adventurous and ready to take risks. Rather, Ove does not like change.
Having lost both his parents early in life, Ove was forced to drop out of school and struggled to make ends meet. He remained unhappy for many, many years until he met his wife. He describes her as “colourful” and says that she was the only spot of cheer in his life. His wife, we find, is the exact opposite to Ove, but she falls in love with his simplicity.
Ove regularly speaks to her in the novel, prepares coffee for her and wonders what she think of his actions. All of this is conveyed in the present tense and works to emphasis his attachment to her. Only later does one realise that she is already dead. But Ove can feel her presence all around the house and even talks to her, we are told, in the cemetery, where she is buried.
The grumpy old man is constantly sad and wishes to reunite with his wife. He is desperate and cannot wait for his death to arrive. He is obsessed with killing himself and though he attempts suicide several times, his attempts go in vain. Something miraculous happens that saves him, each time.
“Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the greatest motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves,” writes Backman, aptly capturing Ove’s state of mind.
The novel, despite its unhappy protagonist, resonates with optimism. It is a tale of unconditional love, simplicity and a reminder of the fact that what you want out of life isn’t always what you get.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Translated from Swedish by Henning Koch
Price: Rs 350
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