"Loving someone is like moving into a house," Sonja used to say. "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 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 perfection, but rather for its imperfections. 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."
Fredrik Backman's A Man Called Ove describes a man you come to love fully in gradual steps, the same way Ove's wife Sonja describes their marriage in the quote above.
The book opens with Ove's employers "retiring" him after a lifetime of work. Six months ago, Ove's wife Sonja had died. She was Ove's light and hope. So Ove decides to commit suicide.
Ove knows who he is and what he believes. Backman says about him--"Ove understood things he could see and touch. Wood and concrete. Glass and steel. Tools. Things one could figure out. He understood right angles and clear instruction manuals. Assembly models and drawings. Things one could draw on paper. He was a man of black and white. And she [Sonja] was color. All the color he had. The only thing he had ever loved until he saw her was numbers."
But Ove's neighbors won't let him commit suicide. They keep interfering with the process. Before the book is over, Ove ends up "bleeding" his neighbor's radiators so they work better, adopting a bedraggled cat, teaching a pregnant neighbor to drive, loaning a ladder to the pregnant woman's husband and then transporting him to the hospital when he falls, and befriending a gay teenager put out of the house by his father.
Ove works to reconcile the father and son. And all the time, he goes to the cemetery, clears the snow off the gravestone and talks to Sonja. Her love compels him. And her memory breaks his walls apart so that finally this reclusive man ends up with his house filled with people.
Backman sprinkles A Man Called Ove with common sense wisdom. A few (of many) examples--
"A time like that comes for every man, when he chooses what sort of man he wants to be. And if you don't know the story, you don't know the man."
"They say the best men are born out of their faults and that they often improve later on, more than if they'd never done anything wrong."
"It is difficult to admit that one is wrong. Particularly when one has been wrong for a long time." [He says this after finally reconciling with his best friend. They had a running feud because Ove thought everyone should drive a Saab, and the neighbor drove a Volvo. There was more to it than that, but their argument became an almost lifelong alienation.]
"For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone."
And . . .
"Something inside a man goes to pieces when he has to bury the only person who ever understood him. There is no time to heal that sort of wound."
A Man Called Ove was the April choice for our local book club.