A Man Called Ove: Summary, Plot Analysis, Review and Quotes

a picture of tom hanks and the cover of "a man called ove"

A Man Called Ove is a fiction novel that was originally published in 2012. It is written by Fredrik Backman – a Swedish writer and blogger. The novel was first published in Swedish language and then translated and published in English in 2013. The novel revolves around a 59-year old man whose name is Ove. It tells the story of love, friendship, compassion, grief and the importance of friends and community in coping with loss.

“He had never understood the need to go round stewing on why things turned out the way they did. You are what you are and you do what you do, and that was good enough for Ove. He didn’t quite know what he should say to avoid seeming uneducated and stupid, but it proved to be less of a problem than he had thought. She liked talking and Ove liked keeping quiet.”

That’s Ove, I say this name like I know the person, I have talked to this person, I have met this person in passing, I have seen this person in a mall. Hell! I have even been this person at times (minus the age – I would like to call myself younger than him, added to the fact that women don’t age!).

I am talking about A Man Called Ove (Swedish: En man som heter Ove): it is a 2012 novel by Fredrik Backman, a Swedish author, columnist, and blogger. It was published in English in 2013.

The English version reached the New York Times Best Seller list 18 months after it
was published and stayed on the list for 42 weeks.

A Man Called Ove: Summary and Plot Analysis

A Man Called Ove is a story of love, friendship, compassion, grief and an ultimate ode to the importance of friends and community in coping with loss.

Meet Ove (pronounced oo-vaa) – a curmudgeon, i.e. a bad tempered person, especially an old one, the kind of person who will call a idiot an idiot on his face, ‘who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window’.

He is a creature of habit with unrelenting principles, routines and temper ready to go off at the drop of a hat. A man with zero political correctness and zero tolerance. People in his community call him – ‘the bitter neighbor from hell’.

It is very easy to mistake him for that, unless you start looking closer.

picture of the cover of a man called ove
The cover of “A man called Ove”

What you will find on closer inspection will certainly throw you off… your expectations.

You look at this human portrait a bit closely and you start noticing that there is a sadness in his life manifesting in a variety of forms – a difficult childhood, absence of a motherly figure growing up, being orphaned at a very young age, losing of a baby, having wife suffering from a life altering accident, losing friendship of a close friend, losing his wife and a series of failed attempts at taking his own life.

You begin to realize that it’s a miracle for this man to be alive, let alone having the amount of sanity he does. He is convinced that he is going to end his life, it is simply a matter of when until one day, where a chatty young couple – his new neighbors – accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox.

From that moment on, things begin to change.

What’s unravelled is a comic yet heartwarming tale of defiant cats, unexpected friendships, unwanted roommates, playful little girls with lots of crayons, rescued
friendships and finding, exposing the Ove that his wife had fallen for.

You not only start to understand why Ove is who is, but love and start rooting for him.

3 Reasons why you should read “A Man Called Ove”

I picked up this book as my typical romance dose of the month having read rave reviews about it, but came to like it for reasons far beyond than that, to the extent that I might even sound like a raving barking lunatic going on and on and on about it.

1 – Funny One Liners

I literally rolled on the floor laughing when I read these – “that time Rune drove a Volvo, but later he bought a BMW. You just couldn’t reason with a person who behaved like that.”

Here’s another one:

“Ove feels an instinctive skepticism towards all people taller than six feet; the blood can’t quite make it all the way up to the brain.”

I like this quote for two reasons; first- it makes me one of the smarter people as per Ove’s definition and second, I get the required ammunition to get back at all my tall friends for years of teasing me over my ‘minuscule’ stature.

2 – Timeless wisdom

I – “Ove, only a swine thinks size and strength are the same thing. Remember that.” And Ove never forgot it.”

This piece of wisdom imparted to Ove from his father reiterates something that I have always known but seem to forget as the years passed me by. I am sure this would have come in handy as a reinforced principle of thought growing up amongst a bunch of bigger bullies.

II – “And if you don’t know the story, you don’t know the man.”

Simple, yes, but hits the right spot. It is very easy to judge a person for what they are or have done to us today completely ignoring the story behind it. I have been guilty of doing that way too many times in my life than I would like to count. This reinforces my belief that a little patience and empathy goes a long way in having better conversations and relationships, no matter what kind they are.

III – “Has never liked the feeling of losing control. He’s come to realize over the years that it’s this very feeling that normal folk like and strive for, but as far as Ove is concerned only a complete bloody airhead could find loss of control a state worth aiming for. He wonders if he’ll feel nauseated, if he’ll feel pain”

Pardon my use of strong words but I am in complete agreement with Ove’s viewpoint here. Or maybe I am saying that simply because I am a ‘chicken’? I like to be in control and the idea of losing it completely freaks me out. Maybe time will change that. Who knows?

But for now, Ove wins!

3 – Sarcasm

“His heart is too big.”

If you thought that Ove was always on the giving end of sarcasm, you are wrong. He was on the receiving end as well and when that happened, it was twice as hilarious. When Ove was hospitalized for a medical emergency and doctor tells Pravaneh that it’s the size of his heart that is the problem, she almost rolls on the floor laughing.

“Ove points at him with exasperation. “You! You want to buy a French car. Don’t worry so much about others, you have enough problems of your own.”

I am not sure if this is Ove or Fredrick Backman himself , but this cracks me up every single time. Ove’s biting sarcasm on everything auto is mesmerizing as much as it is laughworthy.

4 – Of Love and Loss

“It’s a strange thing, becoming an orphan at sixteen. To lose your family long before you’ve had time to create your own to replace it. It’s a very specific sort of loneliness.”

“Then Mum died. And Dad grew even quieter. As if she took away with her the few words he’d possessed.”

“One finds a way of living for the sake of someone else’s future. And it wasn’t as if Ove also died when Sonja left him. He just stopped living.”

I loved the book for its sarcasm, laughter, fun and friendships, but I hated it too. Although, the reason for it is more personal than literary, this book made me cry. I was quick to judge Ove for the harsh person he was in the initial pages of the book, but as more and more was revealed about his past making him what he was, it teared me up.

As if losing his mother at such a young age was not bad enough, losing his father and all family before he was barely an adult is such a sad state for a child, or anyone for that matter to be in. I was happy when he found the love of his life, but then having lost a child and then losing her to a sickness again was so saddening.

All in all, this book led to be a major eye-cleanup exercise for me.

In all these years, I have realized that a book is much more powerful when you feel all the emotions the writer intended for you to feel.

“Love is a strange thing. It takes you by surprise.”

And so does this awesome novel by Fredrick Backman.

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