I have a soft spot for the “grumpy old man” trope, and A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman hits that spot perfectly.
Ove is a curmudgeon with a long list of things he dislikes, a short fuse, and staunch principles. He is the person who patrols and neighborhood and keeps people in line, but his routine gets thrown off when a boisterous young couple moves in next door.
One November morning, the new young couple whom Ove calls “the lanky one” and “the pregnant one” accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox. That evening is the comical lead-in to a heartwarming tale of stray cats, unexpected friendships, and the general skill of baking up a car with a trailer. The events that follow are stories of unlikely connections that shake an old man, a small community of row houses, and a resident’s association to their core.
Narrated by George Newburn, this audiobook is a mix of happy and sad moments that will stay with you and make you reexamine your life and the connections you’ve formed.
There is so much about this book to love! Ove isn’t an instantly loveable character, but his brusk attitude makes him intriguing. The book sets up for some delightful comedy when Ove attempts to buy an iPad, or as he calls it “a computer.”
His interactions with the rest of his community, especially Parvana and her children are especially heartwarming. While there are definitely sad moments in this book, I definitely think that this is a truly heartwarming story and has as many laughs (if not more) than it does tears.
There is one thing that you should know going into this book. Ove is nihilistic, and although the words are never mentioned, it’s clear from the first few chapters, that he’s suicidal. It’s an ongoing, I think the best word for it is “gag,” throughout the book, but that isn’t even the right word. It doesn’t make light of it, but it’s also much deeper than just a comedic trope.
Unpacking it would give away a lot of the book, but as unsettling as it can be at first, getting to know Ove is worth it.
I have to say that one of the things I loved the most was the chapter titles. Sometimes I am a little ambivalent about chapter titles because they can summarize what happens and take away the mystery. But these titles I really love. While they did give you a quick snapshot of what would happen, but also didn’t give so much away that you felt like you no longer had to read the book.
In the end, all of the chapters ended up being funnier than what I originally pictured after hearing the chapter title, with most of the complications in this novel feeling like something of a cosmic joke!
George Newbern narrates the audiobook, and I really enjoyed his deadpan narration and subtle inflection. If that name sounds familiar, you might recognize him as Charlie from Scandal. Definitely different characters and voices from his assassin and spy character, but definitely enjoyable.
Overall, I would highly recommend this audiobook. It’s an enjoyable listen with some relatable moments, and while it’s sad at some points, the bright spots are definitely worth it.