This novel comes as a wholly unexpected and most pleasant surprise. It was given to me by a good friend of mine over lunch about a fortnight ago. Generally, contemporary novels fail to capture my interest. But there were so many things about "A MAN CALLED OVE", a debut novel by Swede Fredrik Backman that, taken together, drew me deeper into the life of Ove, a true carmudgeon if ever there was one. (The TV character Doc Martin comes readily to mind by way of comparison.) Ove has always been a man firmly wedded to routine, hard working, with staunch principles, and generally having very little patience with people --- most of whom he regards as idiots and incompetents.
Ove's well-ordered world gets a jolt one November morning when new neighbors - Patrick and his very pregnant Iranian wife Parvaneh and their 2 young daughters move into the neighborhood. In the process of moving in, Patrick, while repeatedly trying to park the U-Haul rental truck into their driveway (right next to Ove's house), accidentally mashes up Ove's mailbox. Predictably, Ove blows his top and gives Patrick a piece of his mind, as does Parvaneh, who had been guiding her husband up their driveway. From this altercation, the reader might be inclined to think that Ove, Patrick and Parvaneh would be giving each other unremitting grief, giving the novel the characteristics of an ill-fitting caricature of modern life. That is not the case at all. "What follows is a heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unlikely friendships, and a community's unexpected reassessment of the one person they thought they had all figured out."
"A MAN CALLED OVE" reveals a man that, irrespective of his finely hewed personality (hardly changed from childhood), finds happiness in a long-lived marriage, and bravely faces many challenges that would unsettle a lot of people. I am so glad I read this novel. Besides, I found it to be full of so many interesting asides and insights that resonated deeply with me. Example: "Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years. One of the most painful moments in a person's life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for."
If any reader of this review is in need of finding a holiday present for a family member or friend, you can't go wrong with "A MAN CALLED OVE."