A few weeks back I asked my Facebook and Instagram followers which book I should read, “A Man Called Ove” or “On the Road.” The vote was unanimous for “A Man Called Ove” along with a lot of love and praises. As it sat on my counter over the past two weeks, others, entering the store for the first time also sung its praises. This is one book I was glad to have picked up. And then, I learned there was a movie as well! This made it the perfect next edition for book vs. movie.
First published by Fredrik Backman in 2012, “A Man Called Ove” starts out by slowly introducing the reader to the grumpy old man, Ove. Quiet, a bit OCD, and annoyed by everyone, it gives one pause as to why it came so highly recommended. Within a few pages I learned a few snippets of his past and opened my heart to loving Ove as those who had before me.
Ultimately, I realized I was reading a love story. It’s the story of Ove and Sonja, from Ove’s perspective as he enters a forced retirement, and desires to be in the presence of not only the love of his life, but his entire reason for being. However, his constant attempts to join his wife in the afterlife, are thwarted repeatedly by a cat, new neighbors, and old neighbors. By the end, Ove isn’t just a grumpy old man
(he is still pretty grumpy!), but a grumpy old man who learns he can live with his wife’s memory, while also having a life of his own, with more people to love.
Originally written in Swedish, the book has been published in dozens of languages, including English. While I read the English version, and some of the meaning was likely lost in translation, the color, warmth and humor came through. When I finished the book, I felt like I’d been temporarily made part of Ove’s makeshift family and wished I could be part of their neighborhood of characters.
In 2015 a movie with the same title was released in Swedish. It wasn’t released in the United States, but is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. In 2017 actor/producer Tom Hanks announced he is planning to produce an English version of the book, someday.
Less than 12 hours after finishing the book, I was able to watch the movie for a comparison. I believe in watching movies in their original language, with subtitles, which happily is the only way Amazon Prime would let me watch it.
While not a word for word adaptation of the book, A Man Called Ove movie was likely the most literal book adaptation I’ve ever seen. Many of the scenes were exactly as you would have imagined them while reading, with some minor changes. Of course, some of it is different, and having watched the movie so close to reading the book, it was a bit jarring, such as the way Ove and Sonja meet and the overall timing of the book. The book takes place over a longer time period than the movie, but the pacing feels right during the movie, so it wasn’t a problem. Ove was well cast, and it was interesting to see all the Swedish cultural references, scenery, and language that I either skimmed through or didn’t entirely understand while reading.
And, while it’s possible I saw the movie too soon after reading the book, I’m not sure I would have liked the movie as well if I hadn’t read the book first. It seemed to be missing some of the warmth, and heart, from the book. The scenes were there, the story was there, the characters were well thought out, but something seemed to be missing. After much thought, I realized it was Bachman’s narration. Through each word of the book, from the background info, to the storytelling, and the character descriptions, you could fell Backman’s love and admiration for each character. Without his narration and prose, as a viewer, you didn’t get a chance to connect with the characters before the next scene. Ove’s first attempt to join his wife came on quickly. I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready to care about him and why he was doing it.
As the movie progresses some of those blanks are filled in, and by the end there are enough heartwarming scenes to fill the hole left by the beginning. In addition, the script writers added a few extra scenes that weren’t in the book. Without giving much away, I will tell you that two of these extra scenes worked well. They were a definite addition, rather than subtraction from the story. Others seemed to be trying to a fill a gap that didn’t need to be filled.
The book was definitely better. It is worth every word, and every minute spent reading it. The movie is a nice companion to the book, giving it a little bit more color, and life, but not a substitute. If you have some time, you may as well watch it, as “There’s nothing good on TV, anyway.”