I recently started reading A Man Called Ove, a book by Swedish author Frederick Backman. My mom recommended it to me after it was recommended to her by two of my sisters-in-law. I was instantly hooked. What strikes me about it is that Ove is quite the old curmudgeon, yet I find myself liking him. He’s rude and gruff, but I feel like I understand him. When other characters are frustrated with him or fed up or rude themselves in response to his taciturnity, I want to take them aside and help them understand. And, yes, sometimes I want to take him aside as well and help him understand his world or express himself better. But, of course, I can’t do that, exactly.
What does this have to do with a blog about creativity? I’m taken with Ove not only because of the charm of the story or the clarity of the prose (nod here to translator Henning Koch as well), but also because I am writing a story, have been writing a story for some time now, featuring a curmudgeon. Readers of early drafts commented that my character was too nice, not curmudgeonly enough,especially for someone named Billy Codger. Ove, and Backman, inspire me to return to Codger’s story and revise.
In a different story, another of my characters has a horrible boyfriend whom (spoiler alert) she dumps by the end. A friend who read an early draft advised that I give the boyfriend “a few more hateful lines.” I happily complied. It is easier to write negative dialogue for a character no one is supposed to like. But, striking the right balance of rudeness and reticence with likeability is tough. With Ove, Backman has hit a bulls-eye.
Of course, my prose and Backman’s differ, and it would not do for me to simply copy his style into my story, but I am gleaning ideas to help me create a more believable Billy. This summer will see a new, expanded version of my story. Ove has lit a fire in my creative heart.
It is a wonderful book that can both charm the reader and inspire the writer in you. A Man Called Ove does that. Now, let me get back to Ove.