A Man called Ove by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch
“Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet. He thinks himself surrounded by idiots – joggers, neighbours who can’t reverse a trailer properly and shop assistants who talk in code.
But isn’t it rare, these days, to find such old-fashioned clarity of belief and deed? Such unswerving conviction about what the world should be, and a lifelong dedication to making it just so?
In the end, you will see, there is something about Ove that is quite irresistible…”
Do excuse the lateness in this review, but this book was so good, I couldn’t not review it (despite having read it at least a month ago!) A Man Called Ove was undoubtedly my favourite read of July. It’s charming, quirky and downright funny, with moments of real tenderness too.
It’s a tale about … well, you guessed it… a man called Ove, who, to the outside world, is a grumpy old man who thinks he’s always right. He’s irritable, standoffish and, frankly, stuck in the past, but when a young family moves in next door, everything changes. Granted, there are still a lot of grumpy exclamations from Ove, but over the course of the book, we see him start to thaw. Unlikely friendships begin to blossom, old frenemies are forgiven, and we slowly see behind the gruff exterior, coming to love the little man who has a bone to pick with everyone.
I should highlight, here, that what I actually loved was the translation of the novel, since I do not speak Swedish. I can only assume that Koch’s writing is representative of Backman’s, but either way, it was brilliantly executed and I don’t recall there being any moments in which I found myself thinking I was reading a translation, which in my book (if you pardon the pun), makes it a very good translation… sorry Venuti and your theory of making translations sound awkward so that readers recognise they’re reading a translation. I laughed out loud in numerous places and found myself tearing up in others.
Similarly to Eleanor Oliphant, this is not a love story in the traditional romantic sense; it’s a story with plenty of love in it: love for family, friends, pets and neighbours, which is what makes it so special. This book does not try to convince the readers of an extraordinary romance; it simply tells the story of one regular man and the love surrounding him in his daily life. Yes, he had a wife, who, we come to learn, was the driving force for a lot of Ove’s actions at the beginning of the novel, however, by the end, it is these other forms of love that are what matter most to Ove. And it’s heart-warming to watch.
“‘Are you always this unfriendly?’ Parvaneh wonders, with genuine curiosity.
Ove looks insulted.
‘I’m not bloody unfriendly.’
‘You are a bit unfriendly.’
‘No I’m not!’
‘No, no, no, your every word is a cuddle, it really is,’ she replies in a way that makes Ove feel she doesn’t mean it at all.”
I would DEFINTELY recommend this to people looking for a light-hearted and joyful book or to people looking to branch into translated fiction.
Star rating: *****