Nucleus Book Review: A Man Called Ove

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Some of you might not know that the recent Tom Hanks movie, A Man Called Otto, is based on the bestselling book, A Man Called Ove, written by Swedish author Fredrik Backman.  So, in advance of seeing the movie, I decided to read the book.

You might be surprised that a book about a penny-pinching, curmudgeonly, know-it-all is actually quite the feel-good, happy, sad and funny book.  If you’re into that kind of thing—and I certainly am—you’ll probably enjoy this story of love and friendship, heartbreak and loss.

One of the things I’ll typically love about a book over a movie is its ability to provide more detail and subtleties in its character development and nuanced storytelling. For instance, Ove is a rigid contrarian whose late wife loved him despite his crankiness and lack of flexibility. Backman makes this point by saying, “He was a man of black and white and she was color. All the color he had.”

This is a book that delivers its share of emotion, humor and writing gems.  Some of my favorites:

  • On the people who took Ove’s job when he was forced into retirement: “Nowadays people are all 31 and wear too tight trousers and no longer drink normal coffee.”
  • On the stress of teaching his pregnant neighbor to drive, Backman writes of Ove: “His facial muscles twitch like a man whose eyes are being sprayed with lemon juice.”
  • Of the neighborhood cat who decides that Ove should be his new owner: “It was quite difficult to determine whether he was just an unusually large cat or an outstandingly small lion.”

Another clever device Backman uses throughout the book is personifying the cat with human traits and thoughts.

While Ove is teaching his pregnant neighbor to drive and his car bucks down the street: “The cat sits in the backseat and looks as if it wished, with intensity, that cats knew how to strap on safety belts.” And later when the novice driver revs the car as it’s stuck in first gear, sounding as if ready to explode:  ”Meanwhile, the cat seems to be trying to open the back door.”

In addition to the humor, this book is truly a redemption story as we watch a depressed Ove discover meaning in life and newfound family from helping his neighbors.  He’s needed and appreciated and has a renewed sense of purpose.

After all, isn’t that what we all want?

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