Author: Fredrik Backman
Genre: Modern Fiction
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Dreamscape Media LLC
First Published: July 2014
First Line: "Ove is fifty-nine."
Book Description from GoodReads: In this bestselling and delightfully quirky debut novel from Sweden, a grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.
Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?
Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.
A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fryand Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Fredrik Backman's novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others.
My Review: What a gem of a book.
When the reader is first introduced to Ove (pronounced "oo-va") he comes off as curmudgeon. A cantankerous old coot. He's a stickler for rules and complains about everyone and everything that doesn't follow his expectations and stanch rule set. He hates Volvos (he's a Saab man himself), fancy coffee machines, little yappy dogs and laptops. At first I feared that the whole book would be about him pointing out people's flaws and just being a grump in general. That would have gotten old fast.
But as the story progresses you start to see Ove in a different light. Sure, he loves order and rules. He has his own way of doing things. He will tell you in no uncertain terms if he doesn't like something you've done. But through a series of flashbacks the reader is given a peek into Ove's past and we get to see why he became the man he is today. Like all of us Ove has many layers and it was wonderful being able to peel them off one by one to get to the real man beneath.
It's the humour and the touching aspect that surprised me the most about this book. It walks the line between being overly sentimental and somber perfectly. The relationships that Ove creates, even with the smallest encounter, with the people around him are what stand out and help you get to know Ove better. Whether it's with Adrian, the delivery boy or Parvaneh, the young, pregnant Iranian mother (and Ove's neighbour) Ove touches many of their lives and they his.
Ove has a goal and sets a plan in place to complete it but his plans are interrupted regularly by Parvaneh's family, a stray cat and Ove's neighbourhood nemesis. It's Parvaneh who plays a pivotal role in transforming the reader's perception of Ove. She and her family are exactly what he needs and he slowly comes to realize this as well and it's through his relationships that his true demeanour is revealed to the reader.
Ove doesn't have a big personality change towards the end of the book. He's still the same curmudgeon set on upholding the rules and I loved that. He is who he is. Who could forget Ove's biggest compliment that he gave to Parvaneh -- 'You are not a complete twit'? It's actually the reader's view of Ove that changes as we continue to chip away at his harsh exterior to the giving and accepting person beneath. You can't help but love him - a man who stands up for what is right, who is a devoted friend (even when that friend irritates him so much), who is fiercely devoted to his wife, Sonja the woman who is able to put up with his quirky behaviours and he has a very generous heart if one only takes the time to see it.
This book will have you laughing and crying. It's a good reminder not to rely on first impressions of people. I was expecting a simple story about a grumpy old man but what I got was a charming, heart-felt and touching read.
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars