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Likely Stories: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman


Delightful story of a curmudgeon and a persistent cat


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

I recently reviewed Fredrik Backman’s splendid novel, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.  As is my curse and joy, I must read the rest of the works by such a talented writer.  A Man Called Ove is every bit as funny, sad, and wonderful.  In the queue for his works is, Brit-Marie, a sequel to Grandmother, and the recently published Beartown.  The story is funny from the first page, and after a few chapters, only the hard-hearted will not be touched to their souls. 

Ove is Backman’s first novel and what a debut story it is!  Ove’s wife has died, and he is quite distraught.  He decides to commit suicide to join her.  But before he can carry out this plan, everything in his house from top to bottom must be in perfect order.  All the appliances, the paint, the door locks, all must all be perfect.  He has a slight case of OCD, as he tries every door knob with three twists.  He was the head of the local housing council, but his constant reminders of the most minute details of running the council eventually gets on everyone’s nerves, so he is fired.  However, he continues his daily walks and checks of the neighborhood.  He becomes particularly upset by strangers who drove in an area forbidden to cars or parked a bicycle outside a shed.  He is also suspicious of strangers, salesmen, realtors, and children.

Backman writes, “It was five to six in the morning when Ove and the cat met for the first time.  The cat instantly disliked Ove exceedingly.  The feeling was very much reciprocated. // Ove had, as usual gotten up ten minutes earlier.  He could not make head nor tail of people who overslept and blamed it on the ‘alarm clock not ringing.’  Ove had never owned an alarm clock in his entire life.  He woke up at quarter to six and that was when he got up. // Every morning for almost four decades they had lived in this house, Ove put on the coffee percolator, using exactly the same amount of coffee as on any other morning, and then drank a cup with his wife.  One measure for each cup, and one extra for the pot—no more, no less.  People didn’t know how to do that anymore, brew some proper coffee.  In the same way nowadays nobody could write with a pen.  Because now it was all computers and espresso machines.  And where was the world going if people couldn’t even write or brew a pot of coffee?” (5). 

Ove also has a romantic streak.  Backman writes, “She had a golden brooch pinned to her dress, in which the sunlight reflected hypnotically through the train window.  It was half past six in the morning, Ove had just clocked off his shift and was supposed to be taking the train home the other way.  But then he saw her on the platform with all her rich auburn hair and her blue eyes and all her effervescent laughter.  And he got back on the outbound train.  Of course, he didn’t quite know himself why he was doing it.  He had never been spontaneous before in his life.  But when he saw her it was as if something malfunctioned” (128).

That is just enough to whet your appetite—a stony, miserable, cantankerous old man, who deep down does have a heart.  I am certain Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove will warm your heart or, better yet, cause the running of a few tears.  5 Stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!


Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.