Two Book Reviews: A Man Called Ove & Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Book review for A Man Called Ove, a hilarious and heartwarming story of a grumpy old man, and Anxious People, a relatable story of a bank robber.

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337 pages / published July 19, 2022 / Goodreads: 4.37 (out of 5) / Amazon

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

All you need is Ove.

At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet, a curmudgeon with staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People think him bitter, and he thinks himself surrounded by idiots.

Ove’s well-ordered, solitary world gets a shake-up one November morning with the appearance of new neighbors, a chatty young couple and their two boisterous daughters, who announce their arrival by accidentally flattening Ove’s mailbox with their U-Haul. What follows is a heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unlikely friendships, and a community’s unexpected reassessment of the one person they thought they had all figured out.

A word-of-mouth bestseller that has caused a sensation across Europe, Fredrik Backman’s irresistible novel about the angry old man next door is an uplifting exploration of the unreliability of first impressions and a gentle reminder that life is sweeter when it is shared with other people.

Ove is all you need.

Book Review of A Man Called Ove:

A Man Called Ove was an absolutely fantastic read. To be honest, while I had heard really good things about the book, I picked it up solely because the movie, A Man Called Otto, was coming out, and I wanted to read the book before seeing it (in true book lover fashion).

I did not expect to fall in love with this book.

Right from the get-go, I loved Ove. He was your typical grumpy old man, trying to buy a computer in a shop, not understanding why the hell an iPad isn’t a computer. The interaction between him and the young store clerk had me rolling with laughter, and it was then that I knew this book would consume me.

Ove is so much more than a grumpy old man, though, and I don’t want to get into that, or I feel like I’ll spoil the story. Parts had me gasping as I did not expect the story to go where it went, but even with that, Backman pulls you out of those feelings and makes you laugh again.

Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.

Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove

There are so many unexpected relationships in this story, one of which warmed my heart in both the book and the movie, that of Ove and his new neighbour Parvaneh (Marisol in the movie). There’s also the fact that Ove is very set in his ways. He feels like a man should know certain things and do certain things; he’s strict in his routine, getting up in the morning to do his rounds. It’s that change in routine as all these people seem to filter into his life that makes Ove into so much more than a curmudgeonly old man. And honestly, it makes you think about all the people you see in the world – what are they going through?

Ove might be grumpy, but he’s a good man, and if he lets you in, you should know you’re something special to him. Along with Ove in the present, we get a lot of Ove growing up and his life before he came to be where he is, and we get to truly understand his mood and behaviour. The whole story was almost like peeling an onion, getting to know Ove layer by layer.

Honestly, I’m just sad I didn’t pick up this book sooner because it was absolutely fantastic, and I don’t think anything I said does it justice. Just read it!

Would I Recommend A Man Called Ove?

This book is quite possibly my favourite book of the year, and I’m writing this at the end of January. This book had an unbelievable amount of heart and humour that had me both laughing and crying throughout. I can’t remember the last book that literally had me laughing out loud, but this is one where I would probably look silly reading it in public. If you’ve seen the movie A Man Called Ove, I still highly recommend the book. The movie is fantastic, but it misses a lot of the humour of Ove that Backman writes.

What do other readers think?

336 pages / published April 25, 2019 / Goodreads: 4.19 (out of 5) / Amazon

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and “writer of astonishing depth” (The Washington Times) comes a poignant comedy about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers begin slowly opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths.

First is Zara, a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else until tragedy changed her life. Now, she’s obsessed with visiting open houses to see how ordinary people live—and, perhaps, to set an old wrong to right. Then there’s Roger and Anna-Lena, an Ikea-addicted retired couple who are on a never-ending hunt for fixer-uppers to hide the fact that they don’t know how to fix their own failing marriage. Julia and Ro are a young lesbian couple and soon-to-be parents who are nervous about their chances for a successful life together since they can’t agree on anything. And there’s Estelle, an eighty-year-old woman who has lived long enough to be unimpressed by a masked bank robber waving a gun in her face. And despite the story she tells them all, Estelle hasn’t really come to the apartment to view it for her daughter, and her husband really isn’t outside parking the car.

As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.

Rich with Fredrik Backman’s “pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature” (Shelf Awareness), Anxious People’s whimsical plot serves up unforgettable insights into the human condition and a gentle reminder to be compassionate to all the anxious people we encounter every day.

Book Review of Anxious People:

Anxious People was an unexpected read for me. Since I had started the year off with A Man Called Ove, I didn’t think I would pick up another Fredrik Backman within the same month, but as I was going to bed one night and I had finished my last book on my kindle (my reading device of choice at bedtime since I usually fall asleep reading), I scrolled through the books and thought, “I’ll just try a few pages.” Ultimately, I didn’t think anything could live up to A Man Called Ove.

Boy, was I wrong.

This book was absolutely fantastic. I love Backman’s witty way of writing; he writes about all these people with life problems, and the story starts off with a man ready to jump off a bridge, and yet the heart and the humour are all there. It all just sucked me it. I loved how as the story went on, Backman would write things like, “But this isn’t a story about this man,” or “but this isn’t a story about a bank robber.” It almost felt like he was making things up as he went along (which sounds stupid since isn’t all writing that? But if you know, you know), and it just worked.

This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots. So it needs saying from the outset that it’s always very easy to declare that other people are idiots, but only if you forget how idiotically difficult being human is.

Fredrik Backman, Anxious People

I am someone who suffers from anxiety, and the quotes he had throughout about all these other people’s anxieties and just how damn difficult it is to be a human, and an adult, and someone who cares for tiny humans. It makes me think of that meme that goes around about how when you’re hungry, you look around for mom to make food, and then you realize you are the mom and you have to make the food.

This book is all sorts of things; it’s a story of friendship, love, motherhood, and of just doing the best you can to get by. And with all of that, there’s still so much love and humour – especially with the police interviews sprinkled throughout. It’s even a bit of a mystery since the story twists and turns, and we don’t really know what’s happening until you get the “aha!” moment. As a reader, it really made me think of how I might be connected to someone else, how smiling at someone or giving someone a compliment might just be the thing they needed to get them through the day. It’s amazing, really.

Would I recommend Anxious People?

Absolutely. If you’re a fan of books with serious themes mixed with humour, you’ll love Anxious People. Fredrik Backman has such a unique way of writing that it’s hard not to love his books. This is the 4th Backman book I’ve read, and I feel like the more I read, the more I get his writing.

What do other readers think?

Are you looking to read more by Fredrik Backman? Here are some suggestions!

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman

Read more of my book reviews:

Have you read A Man Called Ove or Anxious People by Fredrik Backman? Do you enjoy contemporary fiction reads? What are some of your favourites? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

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