Book Review: ‘A Man Called Ove’ – the book that inspired A Man Called Otto

Reading has been in my blood for as long as I can remember, and because of the movie, A Man Called Otto, I was excited to check out the book the movie is based on, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.

Well-written stories transport my mind to faraway lands, creating many magical moments. The sign of a good book is its ability to remove you from one reality to another. However, some books are a slice of reality that isn’t far from the one you’re living, providing commentary on a life we all strive for. Novels like Tuesdays With Morrie or Me Before You tug on the heartstrings, changing a reader’s perspective on life, even if it’s only for a moment. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is cut from this cloth, with an incredibly raw story and a ton of unexpected heart from one of the grumpiest men in the world.

The book that inspired the movie A Man Called Otto

You might be asking yourself, why does this book sound familiar? Released in 2012, A Man Called Ove has spawned two film adaptations, with the most recent one starring Tom Hanks, A Man Called Otto, released in 2022. (Rolf Lassgård stars in the 2015 film adaptation of A Man Called Ove.)

It’s because of the Tom Hanks film that I picked up the book for my collection. I’ve yet to watch the movie, but I finally decided to read the book, jumping into the realistic world of Ove as he navigates loss, anger, and an unexpected reality check from a very pregnant woman, her lanky husband, and two loud children. So let’s dive into A Man Called Ove and everything this wonderful novel has in store for you.

[Warning: Suicide is discussed in this article.  So read at your discretion. Spoilers from the novel A Man Named Ove are below!]

The grumpiest man in the world just wants to die

When we first meet Ove, he’s a man on a mission and angry at the world. Think of the mean old man who lived in your neighborhood growing up. Ove possibly makes that man look friendly. He’s the self-appointed neighborhood monitor, who goes about his street enforcing every insane rule he’s made. Ove screams at anyone who drives down the street and poor unsuspecting clerks at the store.

He’s exhibited rigid thinking for as long as he can remember, however, his anger increased significantly after the loss of his wife. Ove’s entire life revolved around his wife, before and after her accident. Sonja was the one beautiful aspect of a rough and disappointing life, so losing her has sapped all the color from his world. Life is no longer the same, so Ove decides that it isn’t worth living. Therefore, Ove has decided it’s time for him to die.

Morbid, I know, but when Ove makes up his mind it’s near impossible to change it. He’s going to kill himself and be reunited with the love of his life. That is, he would if the annoying new neighbors would stop bothering him. He first meets the pregnant Parvaneh and her husband Patrick as the couple move into their house and accidentally run into Ove’s mailbox. Interrupting his plans once is already a great annoyance to Ove, which increases with each botched attempt due to Parvaneh’s uncanny ability to show up at the perfect time.

Reluctantly, over days, which turn into weeks, Ove and Parvaneh begin an unlikely friendship, as Ove learns that there might just be more reasons to live than to die.

A Man Called Ove tells a love story out of order

While the emotional component of this novel takes place in the present-day storyline, Ove’s life is explored through a series of flashbacks that help enrich the overall narrative. The most important of these flashbacks is the love story between Ove and his wife Sonja. Without the context of how they came to be and the sacrifices they both made along the way, the present-day story wouldn’t have the same gut punch that it should have. Learning the love Ove has for his wife paints the lonely and desperate husband in bright beautiful colors. Anyone who has been in love at some point in their life can relate to the heartbreak Ove is going through.

Without that context, he’s just a grumpy man who wants to die. Yes, that’s a sad enough story, but it lacks the beauty that comes from the grief. He goes from a 2-dimensional curmudgeon to a fully developed person, whose anger is understandable, if not justifiable. In turn, it also makes his decision to live even more emotional. I knew long before I got to the part where he talks to his wife’s gravestone about living that he wouldn’t/couldn’t die, but because of the well-developed context, it struck me even deeper than I thought it would.

Transformative for the characters and the reader

When I picked up Backman’s novel, I expected to enjoy it quite a bit, but I didn’t think I would completely fall in love with A Man Called Ove. However, that’s exactly what happened. This novel is transformative both for the characters and for myself as the reader. I cried more in this novel than I have in any other book in recent years. In nearly every chapter I developed sniffles, if not outright bawling my eyes out from the emotional suckerpunch Ove delivered. The novel handles the sensitive subjects of grief and suicide with a ton of grace and realism, that it can’t help but hurt. However, through the hurt, I felt a bit of healing in myself, which I can’t help but think others will experience as well.

If you’re looking for a book that will touch your heart and change your worldviews just a bit, A Man Called Ove is the perfect book to pick up. This easy read doesn’t require much mental effort, but it delivers an incredible emotional payoff.

How to read A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is available now! Let us know your thoughts if you’ve read this book by leaving a comment or joining the conversation on X (formerly Twitter) @MoviesWeTexted.

And if you’ve read the book and are ready to check out the movie, read our review of A Man Called Otto with Tom Hanks.

You can read more of author Brian Kitson’s work at The Cosmic Circus.