A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman contains one of the most memorable curmudgeons in modern literature. Check out why Ove works as an anti-hero here!
In many books, there are protagonists, who may come off as despicable, crabby, picky, etc., in other words, an anti-hero. Readers love to hate them, yet making these characters the protagonists forces the them to see from their perspectives, especially as to why they became the way they are. This can be extremely effective if done right. The title character in A Man Called Ove (pronounced O-vay) by Fredrik Backman is very much that anti-hero, and the way the author portrays him is successful, allowing him to be charming while retaining that pigheadedness.
This is where I would normally describe the plot in my own words, but when I was looking at reviews on Good Reads, I found the best description of A Man Called Ove from none other than Nicholas Sparks (yes, he seriously commented on Good Reads). This is what he said:
“This novel, set in Sweden, tells the story of Ove, who can best be described as a curmudgeon. The story takes place after the death of his wife, and shows how healing can occur with the unlikeliest of people, in the unlikeliest of ways.”
Although he is 59 years old, Ove deals with everyday situations like any stubborn old man would, whether he is trying to buy a computer, or giving driving lessons to a pregnant Persian immigrant, but there is more to him than his single-mindedness. In between the stories of reluctantly helping other people, the novel flashes back to Ove getting taken advantage of by fellow railroad workers and insurance salesmen as well as meeting Sonja – the only person that he truly cared about. Ove and Sonja get married, but tragedy strikes not once, but twice. Obviously, one tragedy is Sonja dying; I will not spoil the other one. All of these events reasonably make this protagonist not trust of other people, bitter, and of course, curmudgeon.
This all works because Backman weaves Ove’s backstory throughout the novel in a stream-of-conscious kind of way. For example, when Ove learns that the “men in the white shirts” are planning to take his neighbor Rune to a home due to his Alzheimer’s and his wife Anita’s supposed inability to take care of him, the book goes into an explanation of why he hates those men in the first place.
In addition, the novel allows Ove to grow as a human being. When I say this, I don’t mean he was completely changed like Ebenezer Scrooge was at the end of A Christmas Carol. Ove is still an inflexible old man by the end, but overtime, he learns to enjoy life and the people around him. This is most pronounced in a scene, in which Parveneh – the pregnant woman whom Ove taught how to drive – finds a note from him. It reads, “You’re not a complete idiot”.
George Newbern (Bryan MacKenzie in the Steve Martin version of “Father of the Bride”) narrates the audiobook. I thought that Newbern did a great job. He voices the main characters with great distinction. For instance, Ove is vocally characterized with a gruff, while Parvenah is voiced with an assertive Parsi dialect. Some of the supporting characters were not quite as distinct, which got me confused on who was speaking at times. However, I will let that pass since it is most important to give distinct voices to the main characters.
A Man Called Ove is a wonderful book, and I would recommend it to anybody. It is fascinating to read stories centered around overall unlikeable characters, but when done right, they permit the readers to understand their circumstances and maybe even express sympathy. This novel achieves that and more.
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