You Can't Spell Love without Ove
If you're feeling cold this fall, this one will warm you right up. Starting with the heart first.
This one will make you cry. It took me about 20 pages to realize that this story of an old curmudgeon trying to understand how to live life in the wake of losing his partner would crack me open like an egg.
Ove is an inflexible man. He cares about rules and order. He believes he is surrounded by idiots and bureaucrats ("men in white shirts"). He takes it upon himself to enforce the rules in his small community. He may be rough around the edges but it's because he really cares. He cares about the little things.
"If you can't depend on someone being on time, you shouldn't trust 'em with anything more important either," he used to mutter when people came dribbling along with their time cards three or four minutes late, as if it didn't matter.
Despite the routine of his life, it is lonely. The loss of his wife and his job left Ove feeling fed up with life and planning to end it all. Using flashbacks to tell their story, Backman juxtaposes Sonja's sunny disposition with Ove's constant grumbles. It's clear that the two loved each other very much. Much of the story is Ove reflecting back on their life together and it's uplifting.
"Loving someone is like moving into a house. At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren't actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfections, but rather for its imperpections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it's cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home."
Although the premise of coping is quite grim, the story is full of heart and humor. There were multiple moments that had me chuckling at Ove's antics or misunderstandings. There are definitely moments that break your heart, but there are also moments that lift it. The story was truly heartwarming and heart-wrenching.
At first, I found the book a bit predictable. In the beginning chapters, it is easy to see how Ove will get along with Parvanah and her children. However, Backman is skilled at taking the story through a surprising path. Although there were some things that I had anticipated early, there were plenty of moments that still took me by surprise. More than surprise, there were moments so beautiful they took my breath away.
I loved this book. Seriously, if you haven't read it go pick it up right now. It's so full of warmth and humanity. It's not afraid to be a little grim and to reflect on life and death in real ways. It reminds you to cherish what is most important.
Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it's often one of the great motivations for living.