We all know someone like Ove. He’s the neighbour who tells you how to correctly mow the lawn, the uncle who always knows what’s wrong with the economy, or the man on the bus who will tell you why smartphones are nothing more than electronic humbug. Ove wakes early every morning before doing a neighbourhood inspection to make sure all is well and everyone is following the rules. He then has coffee with his wife, Sonja, and does a solid days work. Or at least, he used to. With Sonja dead for six months, Ove is placed in early retirement by the company where he worked for 30 years. Rather than face his days doing nothing at home he decides to end his life and join his wife. But with each attempt he comes face to face with the incompetence of the modern world, and each time he must delay his plan in order to set things right.
With hilarious observations of contemporary life, Backman shifts through all the assumed goods of the modern world, from tech professionals, to jogging, and the nonsensical T&Cs that accompany over consumerism, all with colourful, cantankerous jibes. But where this novel works is not in its observations or in its adeptness at highlighting the curmudgeon in our own lives (or in ourselves). Instead it is in its creation of sympathy for Ove. We come to see that his “rules are rules” mentality is not out of spite for other people, but a frustrated response to a world that only ever regarded him as someone who should just follow the rules, despite his attempts to live a life of principles that no one else seems to value.
A Man Called Ove is a hilarious, touching and compassionate portrait of those that modern life leaves behind.