Culture House Daily

A novel for men who don’t read novels

2 July 2014

8:30 AM

2 July 2014

8:30 AM

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.

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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.

Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove is Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime next week


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Show comments
  • Gwangi

    This is a puff piece as part of a mega marketing campaign for this novel (been on radio stations galore in the last week).

    It seems like an autobiography to me – or ‘semi’ at best.

    I doubt it’ll be funnier than Ed Reardon on Radio 4 in the grouch stakes. Plenty of novels feature similarly disillusioned males over 40. On TV there are even more from Basil F to Meldrew, and 3 men in a boat, and plenty of characters in Dickens too, and Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, and and and…) Indeed, a grumpy older man is as much a stereotype as a buffoon man on TV ads these days.

    So why on earth does the hack who wrote this piece think this is somehow original? (probably just trying to ride the coat tails of whatever’s flavour of the month…)

    Oh but that’s just me being grumpy and cynical…

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Only a fiver on Kindle – worth a punt.

  • pearlsandoysters

    The problem with literature these days is that it somehow stopped being imaginative in any way…and that’s utterly wrong, once it narrows the horizons for the reading public.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Nonsense. You’re just not reading the right books. Anyway, men who want men’s novels have a dozen by Patrick O’Brian to read first.

      • pearlsandoysters

        What novels would you suggest then?

        • Fergus Pickering

          I’ve already given you a dozen. Then you can read all the novels of Jim Carr, that’s six more. Why anyone should want to read translations I can’t imagine.

          • pearlsandoysters

            No, you have not. The novels you’ve mentioned fall into very narrow category, thus of no universal appeal.

            • Fergus Pickering

              And depressing novels by Scandinavian windbags do have this universal appeal eh? The narrow category is novels that are well written I take it. Who was it said that the sine qua non of all best-sellers was self-pity?

              • pearlsandoysters

                Firstly, one of my favourite writers is William Faulkner, I guess no one could convincingly doubt his literary talent. Secondly, I don’t come anywhere near Scandinavian novels or films. Thirdly, I thoroughly disapprove of pseudo lit, somewhat mistakenly called best sellers. On a more serious note there’s an excellent piece on the subject of modern literature – “Reader’s manifesto”.

                • Fergus Pickering

                  No need to disapprove of best sellers. Just don’t read them. I liked Faulkner very much when I was younger and cleverer. Now he’s too much for me. Good for you for still being up to it.

                • Kitty MLB

                  Actually, wisdom ages well.
                  I think Faulkner said: Read, read and read everything, classics,
                  good books and bad books, and then write, yourself , if good
                  you’ll find out and if bad chuck it out the window…Good advice.
                  Oh, I am reading a Laurence Sterne book at present, I suppose that’ll not be too popular with many and

                • Fergus Pickering

                  Which Sterne book, Kitty?

                • Kitty MLB

                  The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.
                  I have only just started reading it, actually
                  Fergus.

                • Fergus Pickering

                  That’s the one, Kitty.

                • Fergus Pickering

                  That’s the one, Kitty.

                • pearlsandoysters

                  Thanks. Actually, what worries me is an absence of a new literary talents comparable to the greats of the past. Hopefully, at some point, the writers will stop chasing mundane reality and commence writing proper, imaginative literature.

                • Fergus Pickering

                  Read Hilary Mantel. She is a great writer. Like Proust, don’t you know, and much better than Joyce, the old fraud.

  • newname

    This character sounds exactly like Victor Meldrew, with perhaps a touch of Martin from Ever Decreasing Circles, so what else does the book have to recommend it?

    • Kitty MLB

      A very interesting cat, who no doubt is rather like the cats Eliot write about
      minus a name. And Some countries do bleak and dark far better then we do.

      • allymax bruce

        I know an old fella that keeps cats; I lived with him down in Florida for a while. He had this one absolutely beautiful feline called Grizabella, and she seemed to know she was the Glamour cat of all his felines. She swanked about all day, sticking her nose up to all the other felines, and acted ostensibly bored at my remarkable sayings of ‘Hey! Glamour Puss, who’s the prettiest cat then?’. How did she do that?
        This fella also ‘knew’ a whole swathe of oss, company directors, and even Marilyn Monroe’s sister. In his earlier years, he also went sailing with Ernest Hemingway’s bruv too!
        There are some ‘characters’ in real life, that are much more interesting than ‘fiction’.

        • Kitty MLB

          You know some interesting characters, and as you say
          far more interesting and original.
          How could Grizabella the Cat ignore your warm Scottish
          accent Ally? I have no idea.
          Maybe she had not forgotten that the ancient world worshipped cats as Gods. Mystical and intelligent creatures
          pets on their terms but incandescently wild.
          I am sure I have told you about Phoenix our kitten when I were small, daughter of Pandora who sat too close to the fire. That cat, the one that disappeared for a year and then just turned up, walked loftily through the house, as if she hadn’t been away and had the audacity to demand food.

        • pearlsandoysters

          Good point, life is stranger than fiction. However, fiction is all about imagination. Methinks, the lit should take one outside their comfort zone, otherwise it misses its point.

          • allymax bruce

            Hi pearlsandoysters, you’re quite right. In-fact, the ‘old fella’ I know once said to me; “Al, if you have thought it, then it has already happened in real life.” Imagination comes from one’s own ability to accept his/her ‘tenure’ in this world.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Some countries ARE bloody bleak. You wouldn’t want to live in Scandinavia, would you?

        • Kitty MLB

          Depends on the country and being away from cities. I could
          envisage myself ( for a short while) in a log cabin in a pine
          forest somewhere in Norway. They are very happy the Norwegians, not one of those bloody bleak countries you mention, they have the most beautiful twilights. They also believe in tree sprites and mystical creatures… and have different breeds bats.
          But yes O wise one. Scandinavian countries spend most of winter in darkness, most are somewhat woebegone, absolute
          freezing in winter and I don’t want to eat really weird food.
          But yes dear, warm, sunny and cultured countries like Italy are
          more suited for living within.

  • Simon Fay

    Another Scandi writer with an “Ove” in his name –

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01zvsnq

    “Karl Ove Knausgaard is an acclaimed writer in his native Norway. After
    struggling with fiction he turned to autobiography and the reaction to
    the result; an unflinching six-volume account of his day-to-day life,
    has been unprecedented. So far only the first three volumes have been
    translated, with the third released this year, but his reputation is
    already soaring in the English speaking world. Razia Iqbal interviews
    him at the Hay Festival and finds out what it took to expose every
    detail of his life on paper.”

    He’s telegenically windswept and his schtick sounds so ludicrously Nordic in its gargantuan morbid introspection that I thought it was an elaborate hoax. Apparently he goes into great detail about making a cup of tea. Could’ve sworn Monty Python did this as a sketch.

  • Kitty MLB

    Well clearly men have a refined and somewhat intellectual and
    refined appreciation of literature when not engrossed in sport
    whoops! sore point.Or playing with gadgets, entertaining fragrant
    ladies etc.
    Like women, men also like the classics, poetry, books about travel
    and amusing books .
    But novels? There are certain books I’d never read, such as the Jilly Cooper, whips and horses stuff, do not encourage men to
    read the male version please….
    This book ‘A Man Called Ove’, I read Norwegian books
    myself, but this one is quite, well some chaps will be able to
    Relate to him…especially with the issue with shelves and women
    will find it amusing too.
    I am glad Ove had a cat, very intelligent and independantly
    Minded are cats, as long as you remember whose boss.
    But he should have named the creature, going through
    life as the cat with no name is somewhat bleak.

    • Kitty MLB

      Independently, sorry for typo.
      Forgot to inquire, does Ove have a garden, all men must have one.And is there any reason why this curmudgeonly
      chap of 59 is said to be “old” admittedly he’s in the late
      summer of his years, but I thought old began around 75
      years of age, no wonder he’s so grouchy.

    • Fergus Pickering

      He should have tw cats. Two cats is the right number. Apropos noting much, Sir Ralph Richardson had a parrot and a ferret. He used to to them for rides on his motor bike.

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