Hopefully it’s a sign of more good books to come when you start the year off with such a great read! A Man Called Ove may very well be one of the best books I read this year.
We all know someone (or multiple people) like Ove: grumpy, short-tempered, devoted to their chosen ideals/principles, determined to make others live according to their rules. Maybe we don’t like these people. But we also know those who are more tender-hearted than they first appear, those whose flaws we’re willing to excuse because we know what lies beneath.
We meet Ove when he is 59. Every morning he inspects the neighborhood to ensure that everyone is abiding by the Residents’ Association’s rules: picking up cigarette butts, sorting the recycling, putting bicycles in the designated bike shed. He spends his days tinkering in his house, fixing things that need fixing, and generally minding his own business. He likes order and routine above all else, and he cannot abide rule benders or breakers. Ove is the kind of man who can tell all he needs to know about a person by the type of car they drive. He is achingly devoted to his wife, who passed away six months before. Every day he buys her pink flowers (her favorite) and takes them to her grave.
When Ove is let go from his job, he loses all purpose in life—and he decides to join his wife in death. He makes many valiant attempts to take his own life, but despite his best efforts he keeps getting interrupted. A new family has moved into the neighborhood, and the spunky Iranian wife Parvaneh simply will not let him be. Her husband Patrick’s general incompetence (his inability to back up a trailer in a straight line, open a stuck window properly, etc.) means she constantly begs Ove’s help with various chores. Above all else, Ove cannot abide people who are incompetent.
Parvaneh makes Ove her project—essentially forcing him into community, healing old wounds between neighbors, revealing the soft heart that lies beneath his grumpy exterior, and delaying his plans to reunite with his wife, Sonja.
I took this book with me to jury duty this week, and it was the perfect escape from an otherwise tedious wait! I immediately told my mom that she HAD to read it. And so do you!
“Loving someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that this all belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren’t actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all of its perfection, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.”
After reading the book, I also watched the Swedish film of A Man Called Ove. Although some plot points are different, I thought Ove and Parvaneh were PERFECT! It’s so rare to find characters who live up to your expectations, and I was very pleased. I also saw that Tom Hanks will soon be starring in an English version of the film. Can’t wait!