“Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for the living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.” Frederik Backman, ‘A man called Ove’
I picked up this book last night at around 18:00 and did not put it down until midnight. I hasten to say that it has quickly become (I mean very quickly) one of my all time favourite books.
My Mother told me to read it, and I have to say that I was skeptical at first for two reasons. Firstly, anything my Mother generally gives me to read is part of her scheme to make me more desirable to universities (which I agree, is something I enjoy and want to do but the books she gives me are usually deathly boring, written by some Professor of something who is long dead and the books are usually not at all associated with the subject I want to study), and secondly, because the book was Swedish (don’t worry I don’t have anything against Sweden or Swedish people) which meant that it was written by an author I had never heard of : Fredrik Backman. She told me that it had made her laugh and cry on the same page. I was skeptical. It has been a long time since I have read a book that moved me to that extent.
I was wrong.
Fredrik Backman is a literary genius. He shows the world through the eyes of Ove using both the events of the present and flashbacks of the past, but also the people around him whose stories deepen along with his. However he writes in such a way that the picture unfolds slowly in your head, much like a blurred image becoming clearer. I was constantly itching to turn the next page to find out what happened next. The combination of joy, humour and tristesse and their juxtaposition makes this book gripping and a rollercoaster of emotions. What moved me the most was the fact that Ove is not just Ove (although Ove would disagree with me on this point I’m sure). During the course of the novel, Ove personifies each and every one of us. Backman paints the grittingly realistic and unglamorised life of a man who has borne so much pain, but who still struggles on with life; something makes him carry on. In Ove we see our own joy, hostility, grief and anger.
At the beginning of the novel, we seem to be faced with a man who sympathises with no one and who seemingly has no heart. Rules are rules to Ove, and rules must be obeyed. All he wants is to commit suicide to end his anger and more than anything, to be with his wife, Sonja, in heaven. He hates his neighbours because they are incompetent idiots, and his neighbours hate him. As it says in the blurb, “Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever met.” Yet the unpredictable, humourous and ever so imaginable events of the book change Ove, and both he and the Cat Annoyance (you’ll have to read the book) become incredibly endearing to the reader to the point where you really do laugh and cry with them. In Ove, there is a part of all of us, and that is what makes this book so powerful and unforgettable.
This book has spoken volumes to me about how much we view others by what they choose to show us. We all have an outer shell, that which we are prepared to share with those who do not know us. But underneath this outer shell lies so much more. Our lives can be defined by our past or our future. Ove lives for his past and the grief that this causes him encroaches onto his character and means he is despised by those around him. Yet it is not until the arrival of a new neighbour that the real Ove is seen and shown. Unless we take the time to get to know people, to understand what gives them joy, and what brings pain, we cannot fully understand them. We cannot fully know them. And more than anything, we cannot, and should not ever judge them.
However, it has also shown me that we can all change for the better. We just have to realise how. And sometimes that can be incredibly hard and we are hostile to it. We are protective over who we currently are or were. We are afraid of the future. But, like Ove, we simply have to say the word. We simply have to let people into our lives, and show them that we can change.
If you have spare time and are looking for something to read, READ THIS BOOK!