To finish out the year we picked A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, a book that has been making its way around many book club circles especially in the latter part of this year. The blurbs on the cover of this book pitched it as touching and heartwarming. I am generally a fan of Swedish things, so I was looking forward to reading this Swedish best-seller.
I will admit that this book did not win me over until the last couple of chapters. I’m not one to not finish books, but if I wasn’t reading it for book club, I might have set this one down and moved on to something more exciting. I found that Ove reminded me too much of people in my life who’ve let the process of following rules to the letter, and sticking to rigid principles instead of practicing flexibility, rob them of so much joy. I understand that is the point of the book, the word “curmudgeon” is right there on the cover, and yet when I dove in I really underestimated Ove’s curmudgeonliness.
[Spoilers in the next two paragraphs, I guess]
Ove’s preoccupation with ending his life really rubbed me the wrong way. Yes, his wife died and he doesn’t know how to adjust to the world at large without her. Suicidal tendencies are not out of the question when the most important person in the world is taken away. I know that depression is a crushing and inescapable feeling and I think the author treated the protagonist’s three failed suicide efforts (one serious, two more half-hearted) too lightly, as “day in the life” episodes instead of life-shattering moments which they would be.
It is revealed bit by bit that Ove has had a hard life. Growing up very poor, losing his house, his wife’s accident, losing his wife: these are all things that can make a person’s heart hard. However, the way the story is presented, it seems like Ove’s heart has always been hard even from childhood. In this way it is not like Ove’s diverse group of neighbors are helping him rediscover a version of himself that was lost long ago, but instead totally change his whole personality. Of course, the end where he does change himself to being open to his new neighbors and knits himself into the lives of those in his cul-de-sac is the best part of the book, and once we reach that point, it feels more like an epilogue than part of the story itself. So, aside from the fact that an elderly man changing his whole personality seems far-fetched, the end is by far the best part of the book and it does live up to the “touching” and “heartwarming” blurbs on the back. But it’s kind of too little, too late.
There have been one or two book club reads that I’ve been “meh” about but this was the first one I actively disliked as I was reading it. Looking forward to what my fellow readers have to say in their responses! I know Libby will be posting one up and Steph might be posting one too so make sure to check out their blogs.
As always leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon. I would love to read your take.
A reminder that we started a facebook group for the book club if you would rather discuss our monthly reads over there instead of in the comment section here. Message me on facebook to be added.
To start the new year, we decided to read a non-fiction book since the majority of what we tackled in 2016 was fiction work. Our facebook group voted on three choices and picked The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Havard professor and New Yorker writer Jill Lepore. This book was Steph’s choice, which I voted for over my own nomination! The Amazon synopsis sounds really great so I am very much looking forward to this glimpse of feminism in the comic book industry.
5 thoughts on ““A Man Called Ove” book response and January selection!”
It fascinates me that you didn’t like this book! Just because I did like it so much. But also, I listened to it on Audible and I am CONFIDENT that made all of the difference. The narrator gave me a tone with which to hear Ove’s thoughts.
Like when he’s planning his various suicidal attempts, the tone he read it with was the same kind of tone you would use when describing, say, all the steps it takes to replace a bicycle chain. It didn’t feel like he was even suicidal–just that he was completing a task on his to-do list. The way it was read to me it was even humorous–though obviously a dark humor.
But I know that if I was reading this to myself it would have read completely differently. I’m sure I would have ended up feeling exactly the same way that you did.
I’m glad we’re going non-fiction in January. I can’t wait to learn about Wonder Woman.
That is interesting. I did get the “to-do list” feeling in the writing but to me, it didn’t really help. Stephanie is listening to it on audible too, so I will be looking forward to finding out if she and you had similar feelings.
I felt in the middle about this book. Not a page turner, but I did finish it within the week. Ove really bothered me. Even in the end I never really ended up liking him. His need to to do things the right way because it was the right way rubbed me the wrong way. None of his motives where with love, only with rigid rules. I thought the author did an excellent job describing wife. She really is color and the pages that mentioned her shone. I loved that part of it.
“None of his motives where with love, only with rigid rules.” THIS. I guess I have a few people in my life that I see in this way and it blocked me from really sympathizing with Ove. Thank you for commenting, Tegan :)
I appreciate your guys’ honesty here! I agree with Libby, listening to it on audiobook was a game changer. I started reading the text version and couldn’t get into it at all, so I bought the audiobook instead! The narrator did a spectacular job. I agree that Ove was pretty awful, but I think my psych background made me think that maybe there is love in his actions subconsciously but he doesn’t know how to express it. His upbringing really stunted his emotional growth, and he never saw love expressed to him. I think he uses “helping” people do things the right way and adhere to rules to express his affection. Sort of like the love language “acts of service.”
I know if I met Ove in real life, I would hate him and actually be terrified of him… but from an observer’s view I appreciated how he fit into the story, and I liked the rest of the characters a lot.