Rachel: I finally decided to order A Man Called Ove as I had seen it on a lot of best seller lists. It is now one of my favourite books of all time.
Once I had read it, the book was thrust into the hands of David where he was ordered to read it which he promptly did, this is our combined review.
This book combines comedy, heart-breaking sadness, uplifting joy and a cat annoyance.
David: A few years ago I was told by a bookseller in Brussels that I would definitely enjoy The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared by Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. I was skeptical but I'm a sucker for a good salesman. I ended up loving it, and so did a lot of others. More recently I had heard of a book selling millions around the world that was having the same sort of impact as the Hundred Year Old Man. I was doubtful that A Man Called Ove could entertain and inform as much as the earlier Swedish book.
Rachel came into the shop on her day-off having read the book and insisted I read A Man Called Ove over the weekend so she could talk about it, I still wasn't sure. When I got the book home my partner pinched it immediately and read it overnight. She passed it back to me dabbing her eyes with a tissue and with a smile on her face. After two people had reacted so positively, I knew I would really enjoy this book. And I did.
Ove is an old grump, who spends most of his retirement patrolling his community to make sure no-one breaks any rules in the community he lives in with his wife. He is particularly annoyed by people who drive on the narrow roads in contravention of the very clear signage, park their bikes where there is a sign saying "No Bikes". A very mangy-looking cat keeps hanging around him, spoiling his carefully-laid plans. When a tiny pregnant Iranian woman, her two children and very impractical husband move in across the road and damage his letterbox with their trailer, you just know that nothing will be the same again.
The novel jumps back and forward through his life and helps to explain how he fell out with his best friend and neighbour, met and fell in love with his beautiful wife and why he insists on buying a new SAAB every 3 years (don't even mention the word "Renault"). Slowly but surely Ove starts to bring his particular set of skills and personality traits to bear on all the small and large problems that beset the varied locals who cross his path.
He fixes a bike so an apprentice mailman can give it to the girl he loves. He takes the impractical neighbour to the hospital when he falls of a ladder, though Ove is kicked out of the hospital for hitting a clown (don't ask!)
He decides against electrocuting the local mutt who pees on his footpath, thanks to a judgemental look from the cat, who is by now his closest friend. However the biggest change of all comes through his friendship with the tiny pregnant Iranian dynamo who lives across the way. She occupies the scenes where you will smile the most and cry the most.
Ove's childhood, his early adulthood, the loss of his father, how his watch came to be so damaged, and the courtship of his future wife are all just a small part of the glorious patchwork of his life. I can't quite guess where the idea for this book came from but Fredrik Backman has done himself proud with the creation of Ove and Parvaneh and the judgemental cat. Much like The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Hundred Year Old Man, Backman has created a story that is warm-hearted and hopeful. When you finish this book you will be right off to the bookshop to get Backman's next novel My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises. Enjoy! We are sure you will.
Rachel: Once I had finished falling in love with Ove and had put it into David's hands I immediately ordered My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises.
This is the beautiful story of a precocious 7 year old named Elsa who lives in an apartment block with her mum and George and who's only friend is her Granny.
To help Elsa cope with her parents divorce and the pain of being bullied at school Granny has invented the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas a magical land of stories with it's own secret language and wonderful characters.
Elsa's Granny has lived an exciting and full life but when she dies Elsa must follow her Granny's instructions to hand out apology letters to the tenants of the apartment block she lives in. Doing so opens up a whole new world of characters which bear a striking resemblance to the inhabitants of the Land of Almost-Awake, Elsa will learn about Love, Loss, Forgiveness and Finding Friendship with the others who aren't normal and in the end will give Elsa the courage to forgive Granny for leaving her.
Everyone tells Britt-Marie she is a nag bag but she just thinks things should be done properly- we aren't animals are we? and how hard is it to maintain a well organized cutlery draw.
Britt-Marie spends her days making a home which is clean, organized and efficient she writes herself notes in pencil which are her daily guide to life, her husband Kent is an entrepreneur who spends a lot of time away doing deals with the Germans. Kent tells Britt-Marie she doesn't have a sense of humour or any imagination but Britt-Marie believes it takes a lot of imagination to not notice that Kent's shirts smell like perfume even though she doesn't wear any and he has to take his wedding ring off for meetings. Would you have much of a sense of humour living with a man like Kent?
When Kent Has a heart attack and Britt-Marie has to face his girlfriend at the hospital she decides it's time to leave and make a life for herself.
Without her role as wife, Britt-Marie is terrified that she will die alone and no-one will ever know she was there, so, to move on with her life without Kent and to counteract this problem, Britt-Marie decides to get a job. In her usual decisive and slightly passive-aggressive manner Britt-Marie will land the job of caretaker at the Recreation Centre in the town of Borg, a town built along a road. Which is the kindest thing you can say about it. Borg has suffered from the financial crisis, the main employer has shut down causing a domino effect on the community and local businesses. Now all that is left is the pizzeria/convenience store/post office/mechanic run by "Somebody", a woman who refuses to give up on her home.
The government has sold off the football pitch and shut down all services. The only reason the recreation centre is still there is they haven't had time to close it down yet. After giving the place a really good clean Britt-Marie will meet the people of Borg including the children who spend their days playing football in the car park. Britt-Marie will be convinced to take on the role of coach so they can enter a local competition. Through the children, the town of Borg will come alive again and Britt-Marie will learn to open her heart and show the world what a truly remarkable woman she is.
In the end Britt-Marie will be given the greatest gift of all - she will never be forgotten in the town of Borg.
I realise this is a lot of Fredrik Backman, but I simply couldn't stop and if he had any more I would be reading them as well!