I read the book Anxious People earlier in the year. After that I kept hearing about A Man Called Ove as Backman’s best novel. The enjoyment I found in Anxious People came from the unique characters and their quirks — odd couples, father and son, the robber and their fated day, among others. There was a lot of that here too, the lanky boys, the new neighbors and their kids, and Ove, the incorrigible old man.
Ove is a grumpy, old man. Think Walter Matthau’s level of grumpiness. (don’t read on if you want to avoid spoilers) His wife, the love of his life, died sometime before the narrative begins. Ove has had enough of this world and is going to kill himself to be with his wife. He’s got it all figured out, until something keeps interrupting him, the new neighbors backing over his mailbox, the longtime family friends/enemies down the road needing help, and the cat. The damn cat.
Ove is grumpy and hateful even, but his arch takes him through a journey that softens him a bit. He becomes gramps to the neighbor’s kids and has people that rely on him. Backman led us to that point with ease. If not with a bit of repetitiveness. I enjoyed the middle march of the book though, where we looked back on Ove’s past, finding out how he met his wife and how he landed such a beauty and the dark history of her illness.
My biggest problem with the book came with the denouement. I didn’t mind that Ove didn’t commit suicide. I didn’t like how rushed the ending felt. In the final ten pages, a few years pass by and we learn about different outcomes that could have been left unsaid or told in a different way. It made me lose interest in the ending and felt like the final party in Lord of the Rings, overdrawn and a bit boring.
I gave the book four stars, mostly for the ending and some of the repetitive narrative.