At first glance, Ove looks like a Grumpy Old Man with a Saab—a typical curmudgeon, not the type whose depths one is tempted to plumb. In fact, unless you like being scowled at, scolded, insulted and having doors slammed in your face, you might just decide to avoid him altogether. He wouldn’t mind; the only person he wants to see is his wife, who died six months ago.
Luckily for Ove, certain types of people see a grump as a project. One such, a pregnant Swedish-Iranian named Parvaneh, moves in nearby with her family and instantly gets under Ove’s skin, in both senses. It soon becomes clear that this is a story about the rewards of looking beyond the surface.
Despite appearances, Ove is neither a xenophobe nor exactly a misanthrope; he just likes things to be the way they should. Rules are rules. Each morning he patrols the neighborhood to make sure all is just so. Parvaneh and her family’s arrival—in which they drive in the strictly no-driving zone, etc.—heralds a series of challenges to Ove’s preferred order. Worse, people keep interfering with his plans to join his wife. Ove finds his grief is not enough to let him off the hook. Like it or not, he can’t turn his back on the changing world.
A Man Called Ove—which made its blogger author a Swedish literary superstar in 2013—takes a wry look at modern Sweden, particularly the way its older, stodgier generations are coping with change. It’s a fascinating, hilarious and occasionally heartrending portrait. Buried sadness forms the story’s core, yet the writing is light and charming, the descriptions inventive. (Asked what he’s doing in the garage, for instance, Ove answers “with a sound more or less like when you try to move a bathtub by dragging it across some tiles.”)
The third-person narration has some quirky perspective shifts: Sometimes we’re inside Ove’s head, knowing and feeling what he knows and feels, but other times we sort of hover near his shoulders, watching him with authorial fondness. For the most part, though, watching Ove from any vantage point is a pleasure.