I have this animosity towards The Alchemist, because although I'm certainly okay with books having a message of sorts (and they all do, really) I can't abide it when it is shoved down my throat, in a pretentious way, and with such repetition it's clear that the author feels his readers are idiots.
A few months ago, when Atria Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) gave me the opportunity to review A Man Called Ove by Swedish author Fredrik Backman I was intrigued by the synopsis: a cranky old man terrorizing his neighbours. As my reading of this novel grew nearer and I read a bit more about it, I was concerned it could be a book-with-a-message that would just leave me with an annoyance headache.
But oh, how I enjoyed this book!
A Man Called Ove is really a love story. Yes, it's about a cranky old man and those who have to deal with him. There's a woman who sees past his crankiness and persists in pressing him into social conversations and helping other people, which on the surface seems a bit too convenient (the spitfire who won't take no for an answer to the rescue!), and yet it works. Eventually we are told Ove's backstory, so that we (mostly) understand who he is, and why he is the curmudgeon he is today. There are a number of characters and situations, perhaps a touch too many, but they do all seem to have a purpose to the story.
What with Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, and Camilla Lackberg, one must forgive a reader for failing to notice the non-noir-crime fiction also exporting from Sweden. This novel can't, in any way, be compared to the darker Scandinavian novels, but don't shrug it off as mere fluff. In Ove, there is grief and empathy. Tenderness isn't fluff.
I am posting my review a week out before the publication of this novel in the United States, so I really can't share any of the multiple lines I highlighted while reading Ove, but let me assure you that the writing is funny, the characterizations are fun and sweet, the love story affecting and smart. There's really more than one love story here: between Ove and his neighbours, and Ove and a cat, but it's all set up to share the love between Ove and his wife.
We're lucky this novel has been translated into English. If you enjoy reading the occasional "lighter" novel but still crave some depth of more difficult emotions in those stories, you'll enjoy A Man Called Ove.