Are you the sort of man – or is your man the sort of man – who’s always meaning to read more novels but never gets round to it? Proper novels, I mean, rather than your John Grisham/Andy McNab stuff. Well the book you’ve been waiting for is soon to be published: A Man Called Ove by the Swedish writer Fredrik Backman.
Ove (pronounced ‘Oover’) was born on Backman’s blog, whose readers then demanded he write a novel about the character. Backman obliged, the result sold like hot smorgastartas in his native land and now it’s going to conquer the world. The reason it’s the perfect book for weaning men back onto literary fiction is that Ove is just like us. He’s a grumpy old pedant. No matter if you’re younger than his 59, or less bothered about neighbours breaking residential parking restrictions, or more relaxed about the fact that no one knows how to put up shelves properly these days, there will be a part of you that’s just like Ove. He even hits a clown at one point, and any man who tells you he hasn’t wanted to do that is lying.
The book starts with Ove in a bad emotional place (the sort of phrase he’d hit me for), and sees him undergo the one thing he’s always hated: change. He reluctantly inherits a cat, who for the rest of the story is known simply as ‘the cat’ – why would you name it? His neighbours get on his nerves, some by driving cars that aren’t Saabs, some by cooking food that isn’t sausages or potatoes, all of them by merely existing. Gradually we learn how Ove’s past made him so angry, or rather heightened the anger that was always there to start with, and our view of him changes. Sorry Ove – that word again.
Forgive me talking to him like that. It’s just that as with any truly great novel, I simply refuse to believe he doesn’t exist. My partner read the book first, and spent the whole time muttering ‘that’s my father… that’s you… that’s your father… .’ She says she now understands men a little better because of the experience. I understand myself a little better. In that respect Fredrik Backman is very Nick Hornby.
So do yourself a favour: get a copy of this novel. Ove will win you over.
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.