“Warm, funny…unbearably moving.” Such is just some of the high praise for Fredrik Backman’s debut novel, A Man Called Ove.
Like one of life’s sweetest surprises, I stumbled on this book entirely by accident. During a visit to the Canmore library I checked out the book sale rack. I was drawn to the book’s somewhat plain title and different cover design. On the copy I ended up buying, we see a very low horizon, wispy clouds, and the back view of an older man. Not until now did I notice the cat rubbing up against his legs. The back-cover copy uses words like ‘grumpiest man’ and ‘curmudgeon’ and ‘old-fashioned clarity of belief’ and ‘idiots.’ What’s not to love, I thought.
And while I don’t admit to being curmudgeonly I saw and heard myself—over and over and over again—within the pages. I believe most men and women of a certain age exhibit these traits to a greater or lesser degree. Some of us may even be married to one. For the record, a curmudgeon is defined as “a bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person.”
Who among us hasn’t ranted about the idiots around us, the unflinching rigidity of bureaucrats (white shirts), the virtues of our chosen make of car, the bone-deep certainty of our beliefs? We might be dead wrong. We might be espousing opinions whose origins we no longer remember or understand. We might be making asses of ourselves. Yet it never occurs to us that we may just be plain wrong.
I can say unequivocally that this is the best book I’ve read all year and I’m at ninety-five titles so far. Considering it was translated from Backman’s native Swedish, it is impeccable in its language and structure. The cast of human characters is richly drawn, and even the cat grows on me as Backman imbues it with human emotion and thought. Each chapter could easily stand alone as a short story but together they create a masterpiece greater than the sum of its parts.
This book made me laugh out loud and nod in recognition. Yet as the inevitable end drew near I cried like a funeral mourner. I didn’t want this book or its people to end. I’ve since learned that an award winning foreign film was made based on the book. In September it was announced that Tom Hanks would star as Ove in an American remake of the movie. As good as Hanks is, I doubt that any movie will do the book justice.
Now of course, I want to read everything else Backman’s written. With titles like My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologies and Britt-Marie Was Here and similar cover art I expect the same technical skill, meaningful subject matter, simple style, humour, and cry your eyes out emotion. It doesn’t always materialize with follow-up titles but here’s hoping.
In the meantime, I’ve got some opinions and beliefs to unpack and examine, from where I sit.