This humorous yet poignant story from Swedish author Fredrik Backman paints a portrait of Ove, a grumpy and dour fifty-nine-year-old who despite his anti-social tendencies ends up forming touching relationships with his neighbors and a deep connection to his dead wife, Sonja. At one point before she died, Sonja had told him, “‘They say the best men are born out of their faults and that they often improve later on, more than if they’d never done anything wrong.’” This could apply to Ove, how he ultimately becomes a good neighbor and friend, after initially putting people off with his gruff, no-nonsense demeanor. And the relationships may ultimately mean more than had he entered them from a rosier, friendlier place, because they have developed through and past the darkness.
After Sonja’s death, Ove has trouble with no longer having things “the same as usual.” He has become accustomed to her steady presence throughout their decades of marriage. She brightened his life with her laughter and insights, such as when she tells him, “when a person gives to another person it’s not just the receiver who’s blessed. It’s the giver.” Even after her death, Ove takes care of a stray cat, “Not that he’s concerned about the cat. It’s just that Sonja would have been happy.” The things that she cared about and made her happy Ove cares about. With her dying, essentially “he never lived before he met her. And not after either.” Although he has not physically died, he hardly feels like he is alive anymore, and he attempts several times to commit suicide.
Aside from his relationship with Sonja, the novel humorously portrays Ove’s difficulties with comprehending the state of modern society. He cannot fathom why people do not know how to fix things like he does. They just go buy new things or services. Ove asks, “If you could just go and buy everything, what was the value of it? What was the value of a man?” Ove does not just stand firm with his work ethic, he also has principles as to refusing to rat on someone else at work, even when failing to do so would have cost him his job. He merely says, “‘Men are what they are because of what they do. Not what they say.’”
Ove lives his entire life based on his principles and steadfast spirit, even when this leads him into troubles. He never wavers from his routines, even until the end. When he dies at the end of the novel, what alerts his neighbor something is not right is he has not followed his daily routine. The snow has not been cleared outside his house at a quarter past eight.