Swedish Books

Recently, I read both A Man Called Ove and The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared. They’re both by Swedish authors, which is a fun coincidence, because I didn’t set out to read 100 y.o.m – it was a book club pick.

Having read them nearly back to back, I noticed that there was a similar feel to both books. I don’t know if that is because of the content of the books, or reflects the culture of Sweden. Perhaps a little of both. I did a quick google search, and I don’t know that I’ve read any other books by Swedish authors – not recently, at any rate.

Both books tell the story of their older male main character, sharing both their current predicaments and weaving in their history through the chapters. I like this way of storytelling when it’s done well – and it is in both novels – because it gives valuable insight into the character without having to go from a purely chronological viewpoint. That, I think, would slow down the story considerably. Bouncing back and forth keeps the pace punchy, and leaves you wanting to know what happens next in both threads.

Ove tells a story that is more plausible. It’s serious and heartwarming, with moments of lightheartedness. 100 Year Old Man is a much more exaggerated tale. It doesn’t pretend to be realistic, and overall, feels something like a modern day myth. Both are really enjoyable reads, and worth your time.

I find that I slightly preferred Ove, however. It feels a little bit more tightly written. There are times where 100 Year Old Man wanders a bit too much from the main character for my liking. Every once in a while, the book would wander into the viewpoint of someone so random that it felt like too much of a stretch. I knew we wouldn’t be back in this character’s head, and the exposition wasn’t crucial. It could be amusing, but it slowed down the pacing just enough that I really didn’t care about it. But, these moments were few and far enough apart that the book was still fun.

So if you’re looking for something to read this summer and you haven’t read these books before, give them a shot. For me, at least, they were a fun departure from my normal choices.

Dream fodder: Ghost dog

I had this dream about a week ago, and it’s stuck with me. I think it would make a great, if not creepy, short story, but I don’t think I have the heart to write it. But I’ll tell you about the dream, because dreams can make great story fodder.

I think the only background you need to know going in is that my parents had a dog named Cooper, who died just about a year ago.

It was dark out. That time when the sun has set and perhaps there should be streetlights on, but there weren’t yet. I headed up to my parents’ house for some reason, not realizing that they weren’t home. I unlocked the door to their sunroom, and then walked into their living room. Cooper, my parents’ little bichon, sat on the ottoman in front of the couch. He barked in excitement. I talked to him and asked him (rhetorically, of course) where my parents were. There were no lights on inside, and I couldn’t see super clearly. I was going to go home, but Cooper was so happy to see me. So I sat down in my dad’s recliner and pulled him onto my lap. I sat there and talked with him, gave him scratches and rubs, and it felt like we were having a good moment.
Then I saw my dad’s headlights shine through the window. I set Cooper back on the ottoman and went out to say hi. My dad was opening the tailgate of his truck as I walked out. My mom stood next to him, crying. As I asked what was wrong, they pulled Cooper’s lifeless body from the back of the truck. He was already stiff, for whatever reason. I recoiled in shock.
How did that happen? When did this happen? 
My parents didn’t answer, and all I could do was stare.
It’s not possible! I blurted out. We were just hanging out together in the living room.
I gestured towards the house and peeked into the living room, which was empty.
In the end, I decided that Cooper must have come to me to say goodbye.

A Man Called Ove

While this post attempts to be relatively spoiler-free, proceed at your own risk.

A Man Called Ove is a great read. That’s all you need to know.

But what really impressed me about this book is how it kept me reading even though the main character isn’t (especially at first) all that likable. This is a heavily character driven novel – if you were to make an outline of the plot, not all that much happens. The charm of the book comes from being in Ove’s head and seeing how his thoughts contrast with his actions and how those affect the people around him.

The book is very simple, and maybe that’s part of what keeps it so readable. There isn’t a learning curve – Ove is a curmudgeon, loves routines and wants to be left alone. Though I love a good epic fantasy, there’s something nice about being able to jump right in, too. The story bounces back and forth between the present day and different periods of Ove’s life. As it unfolds, it shows you why Ove is the way he is, and his thoughts and actions make more sense. It wouldn’t be nearly as effective to put all of this information up front. Getting to know Ove is the payoff of the story, and the author succeeds in making that alone enticing.

There are some books, such as The Rosie Project where I, personally, didn’t find the main character’s quirks charming, no matter how much explanation was given. Ove feels more than just a caricature, he feels like someone you know, perhaps even reflecting a bit of yourself. (I mean, we all get upset with bad drivers, right?) If you’re interested in a good study on character, how to make one compelling and memorable, this might be something worth looking into. Of course, I think it’s a worthwhile read in general, but especially for those looking to glean something from it.