A Man Called Ove Summary

Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove

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A Man Called Ove Summary

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A Man Called Ove is the 2012 debut novel of Swedish author Fredrik Backman. The manuscript was ignored and rejected by many publishing companies before finally being picked up. It was translated into English and released in the US in 2013, and the novel has since become commercially successful, having been translated into 38 languages and with more than a million copies in print. Backman has authored several other novels, including My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, and the novella And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer. In 2015 A Man Called Ove was adapted into both a stage play and a film.

The title character is a 59-year-old man often described as curmudgeonly. In an interview with The New York Times, Backman states that there are many similarities between Ove and himself, the most prominent being angry outbursts at people who simply do not understand. Ove leads a very fixed life, not necessarily taking pleasure in his formulaic way of doing things, but certainly deriving some sense of satisfaction or purpose from it. The novel opens in medias res with Ove attempting to purchase a computer from a much younger, but equally exasperated, shop assistant. Ove doesn’t quite understand the technology of an iPad; for example, he is sure that it does not come with a keyboard because the keyboard must be purchased separately. The assistant and Ove are at odds with one another, each becoming more frustrated by the generational language barrier, until the fed-up shop assistant passes the task off to a colleague and Ove storms out. It is clear from the opening chapters that Ove has a very particular sense of how things should be, and very much dislikes anything that deviates from this standard. He drives a Saab and continuously admonishes the drivers of more popular Japanese models. He takes it upon himself to inspect the goings-on of his neighbourhood every morning, locking up misplaced bicycles and tearing down flyers. He hates all the “thirty-one year olds” that have moved into his neighbourhood, driving up property costs, taking out loans, not drinking proper coffee, having the audacity to jog and to date younger women.

The novel flits back and forth between present tense narration and several flashbacks, which illustrate the development of Ove’s grumpy demeanour. His mother died when he was six, but Ove has had a much longer relationship with his father, with whom he shares a love of engines and trains, and a sense of integrity. Ove experiences several more losses in his life: first his father, then his job, then an order by the council to sell all of his land so that they can build more houses. Perhaps the most devastating of all is an accident in Spain which leaves his beloved wife Sonja without the use of her legs and without the child she had been carrying. This loss causes tension between Ove and his friend Rune, whose wife Anita was also pregnant at the time, and who carries their son to term.

Although he has always been a bit austere in his tastes, things take a turn for the worse when Ove’s beloved wife Sonja dies of cancer six months before the present tense sections of the novel. Ove continues to address comments to his wife, who never responds, and shutters himself off from the world, cancelling his newspaper and turning off his radiators. He is guided into retirement against his will, and decides that he will put a sturdy hook into his ceiling in order to hang himself. He is interrupted in this task by the arrival of new neighbours running over his flowerbed with their U-Haul. Ove considers several other suicide attempts throughout the novel and is always either interrupted by his neighbours or changes his mind due to the compassion he feels for others. At one point he is considering throwing himself in front of a train when another passenger on the platform has a seizure and falls onto the tracks. Ove climbs down to help the man and from that position can see the fear in the approaching train conductor’s eyes, and decides that it isn’t fair to force the man to kill him. Ove also considers inhaling the fumes of his running car while in the garage, but changes his mind because of the cat in the garage with him. Later Ove considers shooting himself, but is interrupted by a neighbourhood boy looking for a place to stay after being thrown out of the house by his parents.

Over the course of the novel Ove develops deeper connections with the people living around him and even repairs his relationship with Rune and Anita. Rune has dementia and Anita struggles to care for him. The council repeatedly tries to force Rune into a care facility, apparently without Anita’s consent. The rest of the neighbourhood, Ove eventually included, all pull together in order to prevent this.