Tag: bestseller

‘A Man Called Ove’ (by Fredrik Backman)

This book is a million-copy bestseller which is described on its front cover as ‘warm, funny… unbearably moving’ – and, having been presented with this title at my monthly reading group, I really did look forward to reading it.  I’ve been through quite a lot of Scandinavian fiction recently and I hoped this would be just as light-hearted and wonderfully quirky.

The heading in the first chapter ‘A Man Called Ove Buys a Computer that is Not a Computer’ was a very good start and I began to read with some optimism.

Ove is the archetypal grumpy old man, but as the book reveals more of his character, the reader gradually understands why this might be, and he is ends up being a very easy character to like.

Basically Ove, who sees the world in black and white, and for whom colour existed only when his wife was in his life, now realises he is unsatistfied with his monochrome existence, and decides to kill himself. This knowledge is not made to the reader overtly, but it soon becomes clear.

But when Ove attempts to hang himself, the rope snaps, when he tries to exhaust fume himself to death in the garage, his neighbor interrupts. Similarly when he tries to be run over by a train, another person falls into the tracks and Ove must save him, then changes his mind about his own demise.

There are many sweet moments in the book – largely when Ove talks about his wife, especially the first time when you realize that his wife is no longer around but that he has been speaking to her as if she was.  Also, when the reader first realises that he is a man of honour but, that he learns to ensure others don’t take advantage. The first signs that he’s humanising come when he grumpily supports his neighbours – who, in turn, don’t give up on him, eventually leading to full reintegration, to the extent that his favourits neighbour’s child calls him ‘Granddad’.. I don’t know why, but the happiest moment in the book for me was when I realised that Jimmy wasn’t just a random jovial chubby neighbour, but had been enabled to stay in the neighbourhood as a child, because of the actions of Ove and Rune.

I was sorry I had to rush-read this book. I was sorry that things didn’t always go well for all the characters, so I guess that indicates that I cared about them. I liked the book. There were times when the jokey, jovial style irritated a little, and I wanted a little more depth, but when the writer decided to get all sentimental, for a few paragraphs, I was genuinely touched.

So, for me, it worked, perhaps it was overly long, and it certainly required more attention than I was able to give, but it was fun and easy and enjoyable.

‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared’ (by Jonas Jonasson)

“The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson is a self-proclaimed “international bestselling sensation” and is touted as a must-read book by many reading-based internet sites, leaving me to believe it would be an inspirational journey of self-discovery in the style of Harold Fry.

The book begins when Allan escapes from his old peoples’ home and accidentally steals a suitcase full of money, and this is the beginning of many madcap adventures.  In that sense, once I read past the extremely short first chapter, I was disappointed. I wanted Allan Karlsson, the book’s centenarian protagonist, to be a kindly old soul who has led a blameless, uninteresting life and who decides to go out in a blaze of glory, but Allan Karlsson was not the man I’d expected!  The book mixes Allan’s current day escapades with chapters about Allan’s earlier days so we discover that he was an accidental explosive expert who had actually lived an extremely eventful life – saving the life of General Franco, spending time with Albert Einstein’s brother, etc etc etc. There weren’t many social and political events he didn’t get caught up in!  The story has been likened to Forrest Gump – as the content is serious but the delivery is not. 


One quote I found on the Amazon review of this book is “The intricately crafted and joyfully absurd plot is so over the top that at one point I had pangs of anxiety that we might face a Life of Pi-style ending, where an alternate take on Allan’s riproaring yarn might loom into view courtesy of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis”.  I mention this because I thought just the same, and was relieved when it was not the case. However, I may have found it more believable if this was the reason for the plot’s unbelievability.    

The high point in the book for me was the bibles getting pulped and Bosse researching the reason why, only to find that the typesetter had added a line right at the very end – “And they all lived happily ever after”.  The low elements were the farcical and unbelievable nature of the plot (a stolen elephant being transported in a bus, for example), and I have to confess that I skim-read much of the more technical and unbelievable content.

Although this is a very popular book, I didn’t get what I wanted from it. For me it wasn’t an excitingly-styled must-read, and nor did I find any of the characters (even the protagonist) to be particularly charming, or endearing. Nevertheless, I can understand what other readers may have found in this book – that it’s never too late to live and enjoy your life – and that we should not make assumptions about people based on their age and seeming frailty (which is precisely what I did!).

One final comment – I do agree with many commentators who judge this book to be a “Marmite read” that is either loved or hated.