Ove is a grumpy old git. He is a practical man. He has a routine. He used to be head of the Residents Association until the coup d'etat after which he fell out with his best friend. Ove is the Swedish Victor Meldrew. Everyone, and everything, conspires to annoy Ove: the pregnant Iranian woman with the DIY-challenged Lanky husband and their two girls, seven and three; the enormously fat jogger who lives next door; his ex-best friend Rune and his wife Anita; Blonde Weed and her mutt; the stray cat; the illiterate postman and his eyeshadow wearing friend ...
In between Ove rants we discover Ove's back story. He was orphaned at 16. He fell in love with and married Sonja but she died six months ago. Yesterday he was made redundant. We learn why Ove wants to fix that hook and why, if he does it at night, no one knows when the lights will be turned off. We learn the sources of Ove's anger. And we discover the real Ove.
Right from the first page, the writing was amusing and original. The following is a very scant selection of brilliant epigrams:
- The iPad box is "a highly dubious box, a box that rides a scooter and wears tracksuit trousers and just called Ove 'my friend' before offering to sell him a watch."
- Ove knows that the kitchen chairs in the attic "didn't creak at all. Ove knows very well it was just an excuse, because his wife wanted to get some new ones. As if that was all life was about. Buying kitchen chairs and eating in restaurants and carrying on."
- Of Ove and his wife: "He was a man of black and white. And she was colour. All the colour he had."
- His wife's laughter made him feel "as if someone was running around barefoot on the inside of his breast."
- "It was always like that with women. They couldn't stick to a plan if you glued them to it."
- "They say the best men are born out of their faults and that they often improve later on."
- Anita is "determinedly driving sorrow out of the house with a broom."
- Jimmy the fat jogger wears "a fiercely green tracksuit that's so tight around his body that Ove wonders at first if it's in fact a garment or a body painting."
But this book is so much more that a list of clever witticisms. There are 40 chapters. On chapter 5 I write 'Wow! What a tearjerker." On chapter eight I wrote "Wow". Chapter 22 had me laughing out loud, chapter 23 had me in tears. I read the last ten chapters in exquisite agony, trying to laugh with a really big lump in my throat, pretending my hayfever was so bad that I had to keep stopping to blow my nose. I knew what was going to happen. The plot is as transparent as a window that has just been cleaned. There were a couple of little surprises on the way but I was ready for the grand finale. But I can't even reread the damn thing without getting tears in my eyes.
This is a book about today, about growing old, about doing the right thing, about love. It is very funny but at the same time it is incredibly poignant. READ IT!
June 2016; 294 pages