Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Fredrik Backman, A MAN CALLED OVE
I'll own straightaway that this book made me cry. I finished it on an airplane, and my seatmate kindly pretended not to notice me swiping away tears. But I also feel somewhat ambivalent about some elements of the novel. The protagonist Ove is 59 and a curmudgeon--disagreeable, bitter, inflexible, and at times truly lacking in empathy. With each chapter, the author doles out the backstory--the various betrayals, disappointments, experiences with cold-hearted white-shirted bureaucrats, and very real tragedies--that have led Ove to his current stony, emotionally disengaged state. So, with each chapter, the reader enacts the "evolving-empathy" trajectory that, toward the end of the book, Ove will embark upon too. (Ove plus L equals Love?) But I felt that the author didn't quite take Ove's pain seriously; there is an outrageous and even absurd quality to representations of Ove's behavior (e.g., his tantrum at the computer store) that made me laugh and reassured me from the start that Ove would rediscover his good, kind heart by the end. Perhaps I also felt shades of other books in here; Ove reminded me of the dour French chef Madame Mallory in *The Hundred-Foot Journey*, whose heart is softened by the exuberant Indian family who moves in across the street. In this book, it's an exuberant Indian woman, her husband, and her two lively children who begin to lure Ove back to the world of feelings. And as for the cat ... well, I couldn't help thinking of Blake Snyder's book "Save the Cat: The last book on screenwriting that you'll ever need," so named because one of the ways to make a tough or potentially unsympathetic character sympathetic is to have him do something like ... save a cat, which Ove does, eventually. Still, I enjoyed the book; I'm a sucker for any book that deals with empathy; and I'd read another by Backman.