A Man Called Ove

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

My Review

This was really a 2.5 star book for me. If I had read it more regularly and not taken 3 months to finish, it may have earned a solid 3. It’s a good story. A sweet story. Humorous too. I appreciated the theme. I had difficulty relating to characters, however.

The whole point of the book is to show imperfect people, people with major differences, but they are still valuable in their own way and can even complete each other. A very nontraditional family is created throughout the book, one with struggles and mistakes, but also one with love. I appreciate that the love is created and shown through sacrifice, selflessness and acceptance.

But, many of the characters, particularly Ove, came off so dysfunctional that it was hard for me to believe that the relationships formed could really be as healthy as portrayed. While accepting others even with their flaws is certainly good and Christian, if I were to meet someone with the rudeness and anger management issues that Ove has I would be wary of getting too close. Part of the book’s message is of course giving Ove’s background to show why he is the way he is. While that helps me to understand his behavior it doesn’t make much of his treatment of others acceptable.

There certainly would be much to discuss in a book club about relationships, trials and how they affect us, how we can and should respond to difficult situations and people, the benefits of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes and being careful with judgment – just to name a few topics for conversation.

The writing is enjoyable, easy to read but clever and interesting. The book as a whole was not interesting enough to draw me in to the point where I just couldn’t put it down. That likely stems a lot from not fully agreeing with Ove’s actions, no matter how his past seems to justify them. Characters play a big part in my enjoyment of a book, and since I was wary of the main character the entire time it was hard to be enthralled.

Age recommendation: Because of content and thematic elements I recommend this book to adults, at least 18 and older. Those with more life experience will likely appreciate it more.

Appropriateness: There is tragic content – accidents, death, fights, attempted suicide, anger. There are also adult topics like homosexuality, and there is a lot of swearing. None of it was so crude or graphic that I felt the need to stop reading but it certainly detracted from my enjoyment. As mentioned in my review, this really would provide a lot of material for book club discussion.

Other Book recommendations: If you liked this book or are interested in books with a similar theme you might enjoy Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, The Time Key by Melanie Bateman, Rebecca by Daphnie Du Maurier, Eruption by Adrienne Quintana, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, The Fault in our Stars by John Green, My Story by Elizabeth Smart, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, The Alchemist by Paul Coelho, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

The Art of Racing in the Rain

So far my reviews have been mostly positive. This one changes that.

The Art of Racing in the RainThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Here is the summary from Goodreads: “Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through. A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life…as only a dog could tell it.”

Here is my review:

The dog perspective was kind of funny and clever and there were a few gems of deep thought, but I didn’t really connect with it for a few reasons: 1) The conflicts were so overly dramatic to be relatable to real life and 2) the characters choices on how to deal with the conflict were aggravating and annoying. 3) I know nothing about car racing nor have I ever wanted to know much about it. 4) I’m really not a dog person.
So why would I even pick up this book when a dog is the narrator and his owner is a race car driver? I was curious about what it would be like to read from the perspective of a dog. That part was unique and fun at times and had the characters and events been a little more relatable for me I could have probably really enjoyed the dog narrator despite not being a dog person, and would have been more interested in what I learned about racing. But without a connection to the characters the rest just didn’t work for me either.

My lack of character connection wasn’t just about the fact that their reactions and responses annoyed and aggravated me. I can accept that people are different than me, that I won’t always agree with them or the way they choose to handle things. In fact, I’m glad that is the case. But these characters came across as emotionally unhealthy and even self-destructive to an extreme. I’m not naive enough to think that emotionally damaged and self-destructive people and habits don’t exist in the real world. I know they do. But this books reaches “soap opera” proportions and I think we can all agree that soap operas do not chronicle real life.

Remember the movie Pearl Harbor? A lot of people bawled their eyes out over that one. But it was just a soap opera to me. One woman shared between best friends and we are all just happy about it? Not gonna happen even if one of them does die and there is war and all kinds of other hardship for me to cry about. And then there was the movie/book the Notebook. Talk about an unhealthy relationship! Could there be another couple in literary history that could intentionally hurt each other so many times? And that’s supposed to be true love. I don’t buy into it. Just as I didn’t buy into the sensationalism of this book.

There is a “happy” ending I suppose, but it’s not like the characters actually earned it, meaning they didn’t change any of their destructive thoughts or actions. The happy just happened to them all of the sudden. The story/conflict and characters didn’t logically develop until finally we reach that climax and epiphany where then true change is made and learning occurs. Instead it was drama, characters handle it badly, more drama, characters handle it badly, continuing drama, characters handle it badly, and now before my readers get sick of the drama let’s wrap everything up nice and tidy with a cherry on top. And just to make sure they won’t see past the weak development in the story let’s throw in some emotionally charged cliche. Hopefully they will think their tears stem from this “perfect” ending instead of from mourning over the time wasted reading the book.

I still gave it 2 stars since I did read/skim the whole book; it was at least interesting enough that I wanted to find out what happened and how it all resolved but I didn’t want to put in the time and thought to really figure out the point or philosophy being presented. (Had I decided to figure out the point I probably wouldn’t have agreed with it anyway.) It was like that movie that you just turn on while you are doing something else (ironing, folding laundry, crocheting etc.) just to have something mildly entertaining, but it’s not great enough for you to actually stop what you are doing and pay real attention to it.

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Age Recommendation: 21 and older. The choices the characters make and the problems they face are for a mature audience.

Appropriateness:  Some behaviors and topics that would not be appropriate for children and teens. Don’t want to spoil anything for those who want to read it, but if you want more details regarding the specific issues faced leave me a comment. I wasn’t so turned off that I stopped reading, but their was content that was not what I would call uplifting either.