• The Good: Feel good story of an old coot who learns to care about people again
  • The Bad: Predictable arc; some details do not work
  • The Literary: Alternating chapter timelines

Ove has always been a man of strong opinions, and now that he’s laid off from his job, nearing sixty, and with nothing left to live for, it’s no surprise he’s a curmudgeon. He has strong principles, believes in routines, and doesn’t understand the way the world works now. When a young married couple with two daughters moves in next door and takes down his mailbox with the moving truck, an exhasperated Ove must step in to show them the art of backing up a U-haul.

I love stories about unlikeable protagonists, mostly because I find them fascinating, like a magic trick. Here, Backman makes use of alternating chapters in time, where the cranky old Ove is juxtoposed with his younger self, and all the heartache he experiences as a younger man drives his behavior later on in life.

Not only is Ove’s past peeled back layer by layer, but the present moment escalates in drama as well. In the first act, the drama focuses on Ove’s internal struggles, but as the book progresses, he allows others to come into his life, and finally, he commits to them and becomes part of a community. I find the structure and emotional arc of the book to be quite effective.

We shouldn’t like Ove. He’s grumpy but somehow charming, and that’s the magic I was looking for in this book. Unfortunately, some of the details don’t work for me, either because they feel manufactured to deliver an emotional response, or because Ove actually treats people or animals quite terribly in some cases. In one specific case, Ove tries to kick the cat, and though he misses, it’s the intention tht’s hard to forgive. Maybe some of the nitpicks I have are cultural or lost in translation, but my American sensibilities are not amused in several scenes.

This novel is really quite a simple arc, with Ove learning to open his heart again. Friendship was the true treasure after all. So if you’re in need of a heartwarming tale of friendship, you’ll enjoy this one.