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Literature / A Man Called Ove

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A Man Called Ove is the bestselling debut novel of Swedish author Fredrik Backman. It tells the story of Ove (pronounced "Oo-veh"), curmudgeon and neighborhood wet blanket, who wants nothing more than for things to be the way they always have been, for people to follow simple rules and to be with his wife. He is unwavering in his belief that the only type of car worth driving is a Saab, he has no understanding for young people today who do not even know how to brew a normal cup of coffee and even though he was removed from his position as chairman of the Residents' Association years ago (an event Ove himself only remembers as "the coup d'etat") he still makes his daily rounds to make sure nobody is parked in the wrong place and that the garbage is put in the right bin.

When a boisterous young family moves in across the street - and flatten Ove's mailbox in the process - it sets off a chain of events that turns into a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship and the ancient art of backing up a trailer. Along the way the reader gets to know Ove and gets to see all the sides to him that his grumpy exterior do so well to hide. And one cranky man and a Residents' Association are changed to their very foundations.


In 2015 a film adaptation was released, directed by Hannes Holm, starring Rolf Lassgård. It received two Academy Award nominations, for Best Foreign Language Picture and for Best Makeup and Hair Styling. As of 2018, an English language adaptation is in the works, starring Tom Hanks as Ove.

The book provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Your pregnant wife badly injured in an accident — she miscarries but survives, paralysed from the waist down.
  • Anachronic Order: The book goes back and forth between the present day and the re-telling of Ove's life.
  • Anti-Hero: Ove.
  • Artistic License: Swedish Elderly Care. One subplot that grows increasingly important is that of Anita wanting to keep her husband Rune at home despite the severe effects of a stroke he suffered a few years prior. The "men in white shirts" keep showing up to arrange for Rune to be moved to a facility and it seems impossible to undo the decision that he should be moved from his home. In Sweden this is pretty much the exact opposite of how it works. The elderly are supposed to remain at home for as long as possible with fewer and fewer spots available at retirement homes and similar facilities. Most people have to put up quite a fight to get their parent/grandparent/spouse moved to such a place, even when they really need it. The struggle to keep Rune out of such a facility is pretty laughable to anyone who works with geriatrics in any way in Sweden.
    • Possibly Hand Waved by the suggestions that the main 'Whiteshirt' had steered the process towards moving Rune to a facility, not because that was the right decision, but just to throw his weight around. He's just that much of a dick.
  • Author Avatar: To anyone who has read Backman's blog or any of his columns, it's quite obvious that Patrik and Parvaneh are he and his wife.
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  • Born in the Wrong Century: Ove does not like anything that can be considered modern and doesn't understand why people can't live the way they've always lived before. He seems especially annoyed with how nobody brews regular coffee anymore.
  • Cool Teacher: Sonja. She taught the kids everyone else had given up on Shakespeare.
  • Character Title: "A Man Called Ove".
  • Chekhov's Gun: It is mentioned in passing early on that Ove was rejected from the military for having a heart condition.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Low key example. Ove's first act of displaying his practical abilities is to manoeuvre Patrik's car with a trailer. Later he weaponises this ability against the whiteshirt.
  • Creature of Habit: Ove is the epitome of this trope.
  • Daddy's Girl/Boy: Both Sonja and Ove.
  • Determinator: Once Ove sets his mind so something there's really no changing it. However, Parvaneh and her daughters give him a run for his money.
  • Disabled Love Interest: Sonja is paralysed from the waist down from an accident in her twenties.
  • The Eeyore: Ove, to a degree. He's deeply depressed after losing Sonja and even attempts suicide.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Ove is presented for the audience trying to buy an 'Ajjpadd' from a suffering retail worker, clearly establishing both his distrust of the modern world and his aggressive way of dealing with it.
    • Parvaneh is presented joining Ove in yelling at Patrik for demolishing his mailbox, and soon shifts to yell at Ove for his attitude, establishing her no nonsense attitude.
  • Good Old Ways: Ove could be the poster child for this trope.
  • Grave-Marking Scene: Several scenes depict Ove visiting Sonja's grave. Sometimes with company.
  • Grumpy Bear: Ove, of course.
  • Happily Married: Most couples in the novel. Ove and Sonja, Rune and Anita, Parvaneh and Patrik.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Adrian and Mirsad.
  • Hidden Depths: At first Ove seems like nothing more than a bitter old curmudgeon. As the story goes on you learn a whole lot more about him and realize what is beneath that exterior. However the point of the story is never that Ove needs to change but that those around him need to learn to look deeper.
    • Despite being the archetype of a conservative Ove has no issue whatsoever with homosexuality and even stands up for a young boy scared to come out to his father.
  • Honorary Grandfather: Parvaneh's daughters begin to call Ove "morfar". That is the Swedish word for your maternal grandfather. Parvaneh's father died in Iran before the girls were born so they've never had a morfar until Ove gets to fill that role.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Ove tries numerous ways of leaving this world and joining Sonja but his neighbors keep interrupting him.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Weaponised.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: Every chapter has a description, all following the theme "A man called Ove..."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ove himself.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: Sonja's father is a curmudgeon cut from pretty much the same cloth as Ove.
  • Loony Friends Improve Your Personality: Played with. Parvaneh, Jimmy and the rest certainly have an effect on Ove but he does remain much the same person throughout the novel.
  • Lost in Translation: Several lines and paragraphs from the original novel do not make it to the English translation, for unknown reasons.
  • Loyal Animal Companion: The cat becomes this for Ove.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Several examples. Sonja and Parvaneh both serve as this to Ove, brightening up his rather dour existence. However, Ove himself is also a weird inversion. He barges into other peoples' lives, mostly by accident, and improves them with unyielding, hard-nosed practicality.
  • Morality Chain Beyond the Grave: Sonja serves as this for the protagonist.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The "white shirts", as Ove calls them.
  • Power Fantasy: For grumpy old men. Ove feels he has no place in the world any longer. In the end he has rallied the neighbourhood around him in the name of 'the proper way of doing things', saved an old friend from a hated 'whiteshirt' and thereby gained his revenge for all the times they wronged him, scared the crap out of a disrespectful muscular young man with neck tattoos, gained a new family including the grand children he never got to have (one of them following in his footsteps with an interest in architecture), honoured his wife's legacy by helping her students even after her death, made himself respected by all his neighbours for his practical abilities, and when he finally dies he is immediately missed because his lack of inspection rounds are noticed, and more than three hundred people attend his funeral, all professing how much he meant for them. In the very last paragraph of the book, a younger curmudgeon moves into his old house and is revealed to drive a Saab, thereby carrying Ove's legacy. Oh, and Ove also is revealed to be rich, due to his and his father-in-law's fiscal responsibility.
  • A Noun Referred to as X: A Man Called Ove
  • Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits: When taking Jimmy, Mirsad and the cat on his morning patrol, Ove reflects that they may be the world's least intimidating neighborhood watch.
  • The Pollyanna: Sonja never displays any hint of anger, and even when she grieves she has an optimistic undertone.
  • The Reveal: A couple of chapters in we learn that Ove's wife Sonja is dead.
    • And later on, that her death has driven Ove to attempt suicide.
  • Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Ove may be an opinionated, judgmental, and cantankerous man of about 60ish years of age; however, unbeknownst to the neighbors he's constantly belittling, he's mourning the loss of his wife Sonja and has even tried to end his life due to the grief over losing Sonja.
  • True Companions: In the end, several of the people in the neighborhood become this.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: How most people view Ove and Sonja. Ove is never said to be specifically ugly but Sonja is supposedly gorgeous and way out of his league. Also applies to their personalities and lampshaded by many characters, including Sonja. She is kind and generous and happy, he is grumpy, cheap and unfriendly.
  • Undying Loyalty: The only true loyalty in Ove's eyes. Once he pledges loyalty, whether it be to a car brand or a woman or a cause, he never betrays it. The worst offense his former friend, now foe Rune committed in Ove's eyes was to stop buying Volvos and instead buying a BMW (although that is hinted to have more to do with what the purchase represents).
  • Unflinching Walk: When Ove changes his mind about suicide by train (in empathy with the driver) he steps off the track in the last minute 'as calmly as if he was getting up to get a cup of coffee'.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Surprisingly, NOT Ove and Rune. Rather, they get along when their vitriol has an outside target, and when they don't have anyone to pick a fight with, they aim their vitriol at each other in dead earnest.

Tropes specific to the 2015 film:

  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: In the book a few years pass between the birth of Parvaneh's child and Ove's death and during that time Mirsad and Jimmy get married and adopt a daughter. In the movie it's about six months and Mirsad and Jimmy's romance is left out which makes you wonder how come Ove is alone at home when he dies - where did Mirsad go?
  • Brick Joke: Early on in the movie Ove calls and cancels his phone line. Towards the end he sits down to make a number of calls trying to help keep Rune at home and is met with a disconnect message.
  • Cool Car: Anyone with even a passing interest in vintage Swedish cars will love this movie, as Ove's (and Rune's) life story is told by a cavalcade of progressively more modern Saabs (and Volvos).
  • Cool Train: Likewise, Ove's job at the railway provides the filmmakers with ample opportunities to show off old train sets, which they make the most of.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Wastes no time in establishing Ove's grumpy old man status. Before the movie has run four minutes, Ove has complained at a flower shop that only sells bouquets in sets of two, written down the license plate of a car in a handicapped spot (the parking lot is otherwise completely empty), and fussily removed all the children's toys left in the neighborhood sandbox.
  • Feet-First Introduction: Technically not an introduction for the viewer as we see Sonja in an earlier flashback. But within the narrative, Ove first meets her when he wakes up from a nap in a train compartment to see two calves and a pair of feet in bright red pumps right in front of his eyes.
  • Free Wheel: An unusual example of this trope being both played straight and for tragedy. A dazed Ove wakes up, having been thrown from the crashing bus, and the first thing he sees is a large wheel bounding past him. The second thing he sees is the crashed bus.
  • Meaningful Background Event: In the movie, during the montage of the progression of Ove's friendship with Rune, there is one shot where Sonja is visibly pregnant. However it's not until later in the film's narrative that the viewer finds out that Ove and Sonja did try to have children.
  • One Drink Will Kill the Baby: Averted. While they vacation in Spain Sonja is seen drinking wine while pregnant.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: Ends this way, as the people of the neighborhood are walking back home after Ove's funeral.
  • Passing the Torch: The very last scene of the movie is one of Parvaneh's children making sure the gate to the neighbourhood is secured, just like Ove always did.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Besides Rolf Lassgård as elderly Ove, two different actors play Ove as a boy and as a young man in the flashbacks.