This is, technically, not a book review. I rarely write those anymore.
That said, this is kind of, sort of a review of a book that touched my heart, opened my eyes and made me reflect on a number of things, as a reader, writer and blogger. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s back track, just a bit.
I first came across Fredrick Backman’s ‘A Man Called Ove‘ on Amazon’s suggested reading list a few months ago. This was after I’d been gifted the Kindle paperwhite for my birthday.
The premise was delightfully intriguing and I kept meaning to get to the book, but it never happened. Rather, I started the book, got through about 25% of it and then it lay untouched on the device for a long time.
Until this past weekend.
And I finished the book in less than a day. It was spellbinding in its simplicity and thought-provoking as it was heartwarming.
In brief, here’s the story: (excerpt from Goodreads)
Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?
Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats and unexpected friendship.
You may wonder what it was about this book that spoke to me. It was a number of things. For one thing, it was the language. It’s simple without being simplistic. Now, I know that this is a translation I’ve read and not the original Swedish, but the fact that it was so effortless had two thumbs-up from me. Henning Koch, the translator, has beautifully captured the soul of Backman and the protagonist, Ove. The style reminds me of R.K.Narayan in his classic and timeless appeal.
Words are beautiful things. As a writer, I know this. As a reader, I appreciate this. I also know the stress of overdoing a scene with superfluous words. Books which do that tend to put me off from the word ‘go’. That rule applies to blog posts as well, by the way. There was no such discomfort in this book. Every scene was eloquent without being flashy. Every moment, be it humorous or tragic (and there were copious amounts of both), was etched with elegance and tender care, like an artist picking just the right hue of orange for that special sunset.
I admired this quality in the book with a touch of envy. The words seemed to roll off the writer’s pen with nary a strain. Images blended together like a perfectly woven tapestry. As Ove glares at the cat or frowns at the neighbour’s foolishness, you can picture it in your head, like a moving film reel.
The characterisation of Ove is something that held me all through the book. It isn’t easy to describe a curmudgeonly character and have a reader fall in love with such a person. How Backman does this is simply splendid. The way he tweaks the hidden kindness even in his apparent gruffness, the way he parts the veil on a grieving widower, the glimpses we get into the life of a lonely soul- these are snippets that will stay with me forever.
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When I finished the book, I had that feeling that comes with saying goodbye to a dear, dear friend. I’d fallen in love with Ove and I couldn’t bear to see the book near its conclusion. But, goodbyes are a part of life and we must make our peace with them. This happened at a time in my life when I had to let go of a friendship that meant the world to me. For a few months, I’d struggled at the notion, that this was indeed over. A part of my mind refused to acknowledge it, believing that there was a chance.
But a book like Ove showed me that this is inevitable. People move on. They outgrow you, find other people and they leave, either through death or by design. We can’t change that. We shouldn’t. We just accept it, the way it is.
Another very important thing that happened was the understanding that I could still read a book in its entirety. After months of reading only articles on the internet or blog posts, I’d read a book from start to finish.
How that happened was simple. I went away with the family on a 3-day break. We were in a place where there was no internet and practically, no mobile connectivity. Somehow, knowing that, I didn’t even bother to turn my phone on. In this period, we spent so much time together, soaking in the sights, playing badminton, table tennis and going on long walks. And of course, reading books.
So what is the solution? I can’t leave social media, considering my bread and butter comes from that space. But I can use this experience as a reminder that how I use my time is up to me. I can completely switch off for a day or two each week. I can soak in the beauty of a book, enjoy the pleasure of my family’s company and treat social media as just a useful tool and nothing more.
It was telling that I managed to finish this book as well as Ellen De Generes’ ‘Seriously, I’m kidding!’ in the last 3 days. Two books in three days after struggling to finish even a single book in the last 5 months. What does that tell you? That if I put my mind to it, I can read a book in this world of distraction and social media diversion.
When I do that, I discover once again the beauty that is writing, the pleasure that is reading and somewhere in between, I find the woman who exists in the land straddling social media and reality.
And I smile at the reflection of who I am, just a little bit more, once that discovery happens.
- This is how many books you could read in a single year if you stayed off social media
- Review of ‘A Man Called Ove’ by Tulika Singh
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