A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

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A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A man called Ove is bitter and sweet, funny and sad and, amazingly enough, so is the novel. Fredrik Backman started writing books as a means to more cheese and, on the strength of this memorable character, the world is now his fromagerie.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: July 2014
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978- 1444775792

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Ove (pronounced 'Oo-veh') is a man of principle who tries to do the right thing, ensure the no parking area remains so, is a good Swedish citizen and tries to be civil to his neighbours (even the foreign ones). However he comes over as a total grump. He was even ousted from his position as Chairman of the Residents Association by a vicious coup. Indeed, he's the sort of person who, when life gives him lemons, finds that they're rotting in the middle. There's so much more to his story than that though; a story that started a long time ago.

Swedish writer Fredrik Backman became an author because it's a sit down job that enables him to indulge in his main hobby: eating cheese in both a satisfying manner and in satisfying quantities. This cheese urge led to this, his first novel, which sold more than 200,000 copies when published in his homeland. Such popularity then encouraged his publishers to launch it in 20 countries and a lactose-saturated legend was born.

Ove himself doesn't seem to eat much cheese but please don't hold this against him. (Although there are plenty of other things that could be!) He's what we in the UK call a 'jobs-worth'; the sort of chap with more pedantry-soaked time than is good for him or anyone else for that matter. We laugh at him as he unconsciously expects all to treat him in ways he can't bring himself to treat others. The laughter stops once we've sampled his past under the influence of the depth of Fredrik's writing talents.

Yes, Mr Backman has a lot in common with Rachel Joyce in that they're both people who can turn our emotions on the turning circle of an atomic particle. As when I met Harold Fry, my laughter turned to tears and back again in the hands of someone exerting manipulative ease that's undetectable at the time.

Learning about Ove's past we realise he is almost justified in his misery. He sees himself as standing up for the little man in a society with rules and regulations that seem a lot more proscriptive than we're used to over here. He also has a heart but he keeps it subsumed under layers of defensive indignation. If no man is an island then Ove must instead be a well-fortified castle with drawbridge up and well flooded moat. However Fredrik ensures that his hero remains loveable.

Through the flashbacks to his past problems and tragedies we empathise and fully understand why he has created an almost impervious monster to hide behind. Ove will upset us, cause us to be upset on his behalf and make us laugh till we daren't drink fluids and read simultaneously but by the end we're uplifted and don't want to go.

Fredrik actually calls this story a fable and, thinking about it, he's right as there seems to be a moral: by blocking out life's pain we also block out life's opportunities. Speaking of opportunities, it's only a matter of time before we see Fredrik's second novel (the enticingly named My Grandmother Sent Me to Tell You She's Sorry) which is already out in Sweden. If it's half as good as Ove, I hope his cheese-lust continues for many years to come.

I'd like to thank Sceptre for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: You just know we're going to direct you towards Harold don't you? If you're already a fan and would like to read about someone who's empathetically labouring against the odds, we also recommend Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May.

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Buy A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman at Amazon.com.


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