A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman
Ove is just about the grumpiest old man you would ever want to meet, the type of person who intimidates the heck out of me. I like to stay as far away as I can from all that bitterness. When I was about a quarter of the way into this book I began to think I wasn't going to like it; Ove didn't appear to have many redeeming qualities. I made myself stick with it, mostly because I wasn't keen on starting the new year by quitting the first book I picked up and I'm glad I did because in the end I like it.
I still think Ove is harder to get along with than he needs to be, though I realize some of his peevishness is meant to inject humour. He's been through a lot. His wife of many years, the only person who ever really understood him, has died of cancer after a series of other tragadies and he can't find a reason to get through the days now. It all seems pointless. Deciding he's had enough, he makes a plan to end his own life and join her. Using a variety of methods he tries, several times, but each time something happens to distract him and direct his attention elsewhere. As these things happen he slowly begins to open up to other people and, in his own bah-humbug way, he begins to care about them and they about him.
By the time I reached the mid-point of the book I found myself enjoying it. The writing improved as the plot advanced, except for an excessive use of similes. I just went back to check and found the phrase "as if" used at least 12 times in a 4 page span. For example: "There's a slow dragging sound inside before anything happens with the lock, as if a ghost is approaching with heavy chains rattling behind it." It's an effective technique, but it wears thin when overused and here it seems to be used on almost every page. I don't know if it's a problem with the writing or the translation (from Swedish) but I found it irritating. Why doesn't editing do something about this kind of thing? Other than that, I enjoyed the writing, especially toward the end as it seemed to tighten up a bit.
In the end I liked it, somewhat for the characters but mainly for the overall philosophy. There's something inspirational about neighbours getting involved in each other's lives and learning to care for and help one another. And it was nice to read an "inspirational" story that didn't come with the usual amount of sap. I have a low sap tolerance.
It struck me that this book would make a good movie, maybe with with Tommy Lee Jones in the role of Ove. He's the perfect grump in the Men In Black movies because you can see there's a heart in there somewhere but he doesn't wear it on his sleeve. I wonder if the book will ever be popular enough for anyone to make a film. Whether it does or not, I think the story will stick with me for some time.
For those who care I'll warn you that there is some cursing. It isn't excessive, but I think the book would have been just as effective without it. Ove certainly didn't have to swear to make it clear that he was angry almost all the time. Still, it was a good story.