We all know a man called Ove – or better yet, exactly like Ove.
A crotchety old man. The neighborhood watchdog policing persnickety policies about which no one else cares. A man who never has a nice word to say, who always has something about which to complain.
He exists in every family or neighborhood. In archetypes and novels. Small screen and silver.
He excels in Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove.
A third person narrative and clever titles for each chapter continually referring to the main character as ‘a man called Ove . . .’ (backs up with a trailer – as in chapter three) establish a sort of psychic distance between Ove and the reader. We see him as the world does. The archetypal cranky old man.
But just as many of us secretly yearn for the day and chronological age at which we can tell the world around us how we really feel, such outrageously brusque behavior almost endears Ove to the reader. At the very least, it entertains us. His dysfunctional interactions with his neighbors and clerks at the Apple store made me laugh out loud more than once. The fact that Ove is resolutely dedicated to his lifetime car of choice, Saab, brought me – as a Saab driver myself – even more joy.
While the chapter titles are structured the same throughout the book, readers slowly move closer to Ove and his motivation, the reasons for his dysfunction and underlying sadness. He wants to be left alone. He purposely pushes people away because the one person in the world who made him live – his wife – is gone.
“If anyone had asked, he would have told them that he never lived before he met her. And not after either.”
And so now, “Ove just wants to die in peace.” He wants to meet his wife on the other side and will try whatever means it takes to get there.
What I appreciate about this novel is the empathetic way it deals with depression and attempted suicide. Ove, while archetypal in other ways, does not fit the stereotypical profile of a suicidal person. Backman’s portrayal shows that depression can be situational – and elicit feelings of such dire circumstances that the only option left seems to be suicide.
However, Backman’s novel also shows the amazing strength and redemptive powers of love. It may be love that causes Ove to yearn to be reunited with his departed wife, but it is also the long reach of her love that reminds him to be a better man. It is through the initially annoying love and attention of his neighbors that Ove finds a reason to live. It is the hard fought and won love of a feline companion that offers him solace.
There is love in a riotously abstract portrait blasted in color by a three year-old. In a hand to hold. A skill transferred. A deed proffered. A meal shared. There is love in a sense of belonging, community.
A Man Called Ove reminds us all what it means to truly live and love – and I loved every minute of it.
In fact, I loved Ove so much, the next few ‘Weekend Write-Off’ entries will be dedicated to favorite excerpts of the novel, which is just full of gems. Ove and I will see you next Friday!