For reasons unknown to me, I have avoided reading this novel for a long time: Maybe because the blurb sounds so sappy, a plot revolving around a grumpy old man who you know before you even read the first page, will charm you by the book’s end. Maybe it is because I have seen the 1990s movie “Grumpy Old Men” (cute but not worthy of a novel) with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, with the only difference in this book being that Ove is not an American grumpy old man, but rather a Swedish curmudgeon living in a country that is unfamiliar with diversity. It turns out that Ove is just as difficult as the Matthau and Lemmon characters. And, as in the movie, you will gradually learn why Ove is so angry.
At first, it appears that his problem is that he is feeling old, and useless, and he is peeved that things just aren’t like they used to be. Not only does no one do their own home repairs anymore, no one even knows how to use a hammer anymore. Nowadays it seems it is only important to know how to use a computer (which might as well be a spaceship for Ove). Most of his lifelong neighbors have moved or died, and all types of foreigners, white shirts, and other strange people have become his new neighbors. We all have a hard time with change, so this is an easy conclusion to make in understanding his grouchiness. But, as we learn in the chapters about his past, which alternate with those about his present, Ove had a very rough life, and was a grouchy young man as well. He lost both his parents while he was still in his teens. As an adolescent he worked two physically laborious jobs, one by day and the other by night, to earn the money to repair his childhood home on the weekends. He was proud of himself for being (young as he was) the first in the neighborhood to buy home insurance. Only when a fire occurs destroying the house does he find out that he was conned. So, it is fair to say that Ove earned the right to be cantankerous.
But we soon learn that Ove is mostly angry because his wife died six months ago and nothing feels right without her. A good chunk of this story revolves around his suicide attempts. Every day he thinks of a new method to end his life, only to be interrupted by the new neighbors. The doorbell will ring. Or other times the new neighbors just barge in (on heard of in his day) always wanting his immediate help with something or another, sometimes minimal and sometimes a true emergency. So he is constantly forced to stop his suicide attempt for the day because he knows that his wife would be angry with him if he goes to join her, ignoring those in need.
By the time in the story that you read that he is teaching a mother-to-be how to drive you will have figured out that this short-tempered man, who all sane people avoid, is really a depressed man hiding his heart of gold. You just have to take the time to look for his heart. Eventually, the foreigners, and white shirts, and gay neighbors (who used to avoid him) all sort of adopt him as their grandfather. So yes, the plot was predictable, but I was surprised to find that this book was also a darkly comedic novel that still managed to be heartwarming and uplifting. I am glad that I finally broke down and jumped into “Ove’s” world. This tale was a reminder to myself of just how unlikely individuals may have a dramatic impact in our lives if we are open to letting them in. And when we do, we notice how sweet life can be.
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