A Man Called Ove
The reason I put A Man Called Ove on my pile of books to read while recovering from knee surgery was that it seemed everyone who read it raved about it. So I started it, and was surprised to find that I disliked the main character. As I learned more about him, I started to like him better, but everything about him and his situation made me sad. At the end of the book, I was angry. I was angry for the same reason that watching Bill Murray in the 2014 movie St Vincent made me angry—because I too am irascible and can be exacting about things and don’t much like to cook but I don’t have friends and neighbors coming over and becoming like a second family to me, making my life all better. I’m still stuck here in the house on crutches and getting increasingly bitter about it.
I was sympathizing with Ove when he was trying to commit suicide every day but failing because of some damn thing or another, and it also reminded me of the comic timing of the cell phone song that interrupts Drew’s plan to take his own life near the beginning of the movie Elizabethtown.
But I still couldn’t like Ove, because of the way he’s determined to see “the world in black and white” and how unpleasant he is to people. Especially after reading Shrill, this part really rubbed me the wrong way:
“He sees the heavily overweight young man from next door slouching past the garage door in the parking area. Not that Ove dislikes fat people. Certainly not. People can look any way they like. He has just never been able to understand them, can’t fathom how they do it. How much can one person eat? How does one manage to turn oneself into a twin-size person? It must take a certain determination, he reflects.”
Much later in the novel we find out how much Ove and his wife and their friends Anita and Rune have done for this young man, and even a bit about the childhood trauma that might have made him want some padding between him and the world, but I found it hard to forgive Ove for this first impression.
There were a few funny bits that kept me reading, though, like when Ove is trying to hang himself from a hook in his living room ceiling but he puts plastic on the floor because he doesn’t want the ambulance men who will come in to take his body out “scratching up Ove’s floor with their shoes. Whether over Ove’s dead body or not.”
Finding out more about Ove’s life with his wife made me like him a little better, especially when I got to the part about how he plans for car trips, which is a bit like how Ron plans for them:
“When he was driving somewhere he drew up schedules and plans and decided where they’d fill up and when they’d stop for coffee, all in the interest of making the trip as time-efficient as possible. He studied maps and estimated exactly how long each leg of the journey would take and how they should avoid rush-hour traffic.”
The way Ove’s story is told is stark and unrelenting, though. Combined with my mood of frustration over not being able to walk, it became terrible and then overly sentimentalized and unrealistic, and finally it was over and I could throw the book against the wall and indulge in a snit about how in real life, people don’t pay that much attention to lonely old folks and dying isn’t quick and easy and if you leave a cat behind, you can’t be sure anyone else will take care of him.
This is why the novel that charmed everyone made me angry, instead.