Via Mr. AMB:
I didn’t like the books I was reading and so, like the curmudgeon I can be, I complained about it to AMB. She handed me her Kindle, which contained Fredrik Backman’s debut novel, A Man Called Ove.
Ove is the quintessential strong, silent type, the sort of man who can “take responsibility for things and fix a water heater if necessary.” However, with the loss of his wife and his job, he has lost his purpose. As a result, he sets about using his practical skills to engineer his exit from life. Whenever he’s about to go through with it, though, his pesky neighbors intrude upon his abode, forcing him to take responsibility for their problems.
If viewed solely through a plot summary, A Man Called Ove is predictable and sentimental. But dwelling on how the plot of A Man Called Ove is predictable is like dwelling on how the plot of A Confederacy of Dunces is implausible: it shows the reader has missed the point of the story.
As I was reading A Man Called Ove, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to A Confederacy of Dunces. Ove is, most assuredly, a “genius” in the sense of Jonathan Swift’s quote that inspired the title of John Kennedy Toole’s work: “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.” Both novels deftly and hilariously demonstrate the sheer absurdity that assails us continually in the course of human interaction. The difference, however, is that Toole’s Ignatius Reilly is utterly useless whereas Ove is just the man for the job, whatever the job may be. Correspondingly, Ignatius finds his solace in The Consolations of Philosophy, whereas Ove finds his by doing handiwork.
In the end, Ove gets much closer than Ignatius in actually applying Boethius’ lesson in The Consolations of Philosophy: “Nothing is miserable unless you think it so; and on the other hand, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it.” The path that Ove takes from misery to contentment may be predictable, but it is a worthy, fulfilling journey.
For more on A Man Called Ove, see these reviews (the ones that encouraged AMB to buy the book, which she still hasn’t read for some bizarre reason):
- Musings of a Bookish Kitty: “Let me start off by saying how much I loved this book. Ove, for all his rigidness, judgmental ways, and crankiness, was impossible not to like once I got to know him.”
- Bay State Reader’s Advisory: “I read the whole book hearing “Ove” as rhyming with “love”, because that’s what the reader who recommended it so highly told me, but apparently this Nordic name is pronounced “Oo-veh.” That’s the only thing she misled me about, though, because this novel charmed me, just as it did her.”