I just finished A Man Called Ove and can’t stop telling everyone I know about it. I’m sure I’m late to the game, since the book has been made into a film that already showed in our second-run theatre, but I just fell in love with the story!
Rachelle and I were texting about the book last week, because she loves it as much as I do. According to Rachelle, the “similes, metaphors, and analogies are uncanny and as far from cliche as possible.” One of her students told her, after reading Ove, that the author “seems to say things you’ve thought about your whole life, but were unaware of having thoughts about.”
I am drawn to books with vivid characterization. Plot and setting are important, but I have to care about the characters to be willing to finish an entire book.
I cared about Ove. I wanted him to be my neighbor. I wanted to invite him over for dinner just so he could frown at the way I do things at my house. I imagine that he would huff and puff and then fix the hole in the wall in our hallway (don’t ask, it will just get my husband fired up if I tell the story). I think he would tell me off, and then repair the cupboard door that has a crack in it. I imagine that he would frown at my cat, but then he would let her follow him around, hoping he would deign to pet her.
Ove is, on the surface, a grouchy old man. But he is also lonely and sad after the death of his wife. He contemplates committing suicide, but wants to do it “properly”, leaving little mess behind for anyone. As his attempts are continually interrupted by his neighbor, Parvaneh, along with her family, the reader wants him to see the joy that surrounds him in neighbors that care about him.
Ove is a man who has never had children. His discomfort with them is apparent in the indirect characterization in a scene where he has given Parvaneh and her children a ride to the hospital. Then Parvaneh leaves the kids with Ove for a moment while she goes to a patient’s room. The three-year-old asks him to read a book to her:
“Read!” she orders him in an excitable manner, holding up a book with her arms stretched out so far that she almost loses her balance.
Ove looks at the book more or less as if it just sent him a chain letter insisting that the book was really a Nigerian prince who had a ‘very lucrative investment opportunity’ for Ove and now only needed Ove’s account number ‘to sort something out.”
Students can consider what information the second paragraph gives us about Ove. The letter from Nigeria is so ubiquitous that most readers can relate to how “icky” they are. But they are also almost laughable – something that few people with any common sense will get tricked by today. So comparing the children’s book to the letter shows the level of discomfort Ove feels about being asked to read to the child. If he actually reads to her, in his mind he will be succumbing to a ruse being implemented by a swindler of grand proportions.
There are any number of incidents of indirect characterization like this, showing Ove’s thoughts about something, revealing his true feelings about a person or task. With 5 or 6 different examples, small groups could analyze what the indirect characterization reveals about Ove and consider how the author uses the internal thoughts to reveal aspects of his personality.
Regardless of whether you teach, or what age you teach, this book is now one of my absolute favorites. And I leave you with this thought:
You. Must. Read. It!