A Man Called Ove: A Review

A Man Called OveIn A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman writes about people who are at odds with modern rules, and he does so by ignoring, even flaunting, modern rules of writing. And it was glorious! Wonderful! He portrays people who don’t fit into society as it is presently constructed, so it makes sense he tears up the rules when writing about them. In this way he can tell the story of the old-fashioned Ove, for whom the rules are an undue burden, and the immigrant Parveneh, who recognizes the rules but for whom reality is a very flexible thing.

What are these rules of writing? Let me name a few. First, there’s the prohibition against using similes and metaphors. How did this start? From what I can tell, George Orwell said, don’t use similes. Now this has become orthodoxy. Backman deals with this by exchanging the word “like” with “as if” and “as though.” These phrases animate the simile and are usually effective. There was a point, though, in the beginning, when the as ifs and as thoughs sounded as if a thousand flies were buzzing in my ears. On occasion, these were much too lengthy and sounded contrived. But I give him credit for his determination in giving the reader both similes and metaphors.

The other rules all writers will recognize. Don’t use “ly” words. Don’t use words other than said, such as exclaim, shriek, and god forbid, wail and protest. Laugh is not a synonym for say. Don’t use it instead of say or said. Backman does all these unabashedly. But wait, there’s more. He changes tense for no apparent reason. He addresses the reader. He uses phrases. When he references tech devices, cars, and other mechanical instruments, he doesn’t concern himself with endless explaining of what they are. Oh, and he uses exclamation points! Even when the character is screaming. Love it! What? What’s happening? Just this: Backman runs over the lines, kicks the box around, and lets us care about the people in his stories.

Is the book perfect? No. The storyline is repetitive. A Man Called Ove could be called A Man Called Over and Over Again. Each chapter is a retelling of the same issues, but not always with much movement forward in the story. He relies on thematic sayings and symbolic scenes which are borderline preachy. But it doesn’t matter because it’s so much fun to read.

I ask you, what is that called? That’s Called Good Writing.

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17 thoughts on “A Man Called Ove: A Review

  1. Yeah! A terrific original review, Mary and with such a writer as Backman this is a great approach. He is breaking the ‘rules’ which are too often seen as sacrosanct – but he does it to great effect. As you say: he ‘kicks the box around, and lets us care about the people in his stories.’ As a huge fan of this book, Mary I just love your post here!

    • Thanks, Annika. He does this in Britt-Marie Was Here as well. Perhaps even more, as she is breaking down and breaking out of her shell. After these books, I read A Gentleman From Moscow which is told in much more proper prose, as it should be. I think we should all relax a bit!

      • I’ve never heard of that book but reading about it definitely intrigued and one added to my TBR list! Thanks for mentioning it…it’s a joy sharing thoughts about various books and learning so much! 😀

  2. Interesting post. I didn’t notice the literary rule breaking, I so enjoyed reading A Man Called Ove. (Maybe I don’t know the rules, anyway.) I will need to read the book again and look for the examples you talk about.

    The storyline may be repetitive, but I thought it added a comical aspect to Ove’s sad situation.

    • He does this in Britt-Marie Was Here as well. Lots of exclamations one after another. It gives the reader a feeling that there’s a level of hysteria at work, and there is. You make a good point about the repetition adding to the comical, and sad situation.

    • I’m looking forward to that blog. I’ve read many of these how-to articles online and am surprised and disheartened to find the examples they give of what’s correct are worse than what’s allegedly incorrect. In fact, often the revised attempt sounds contrived, AS IF we’re tiptoeing around a set of landmines. There are, of course, specific cases of correct grammar, and these can (not should) be used in one’s narrative, but not in dialogue unless the speaker is a proper sort, as in A Gentleman from Moscow.

      There’s nothing better than a unique voice, a style all your own, and that means experimenting and letting it flow. We need to trust our own voices more.

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