Je Suis Ove (et Don)

Have you ever read a book and thought, ‘That’s me!’?.  I’ve read two – ‘A Man Called Ove’ (which you may have seen as a film) and Don in ‘The Rosie Project’ – and felt this.  It’s quite disconcerting when a writer gets at your heart.  It’s as if you are transparent…But luckily, if the  characters are flawed, immoral or dangerous, you are the only one aware of it and, not wishing to reveal your heart of hearts, you may escape detection of your dark centre.

Now, if you’ve read either of these books, I doubt you will have had this feeling.  If you know me you may think what I feel is slightly odd, because Ove and Don are rather strange, unlikeable characters and you may feel (hopefully?) I am not like that.  But, inside, this is what is going on in my head.

Ou est Ove (Don)?

To explain briefly.  Both Ove and Don are men for whom rationality, or at least their view  of it, is the only way to think.  They cannot imagine why anyone would think otherwise.  So they both think of only rational solutions to issues and each believes that there is one best – and therefore only one – way to solve any problem.  And once the solution is found, that’s it.  It is the ‘answer’ and should be followed whenever that issue comes up.

For instance when Ove was President of the Residents Association (before being deposed in a coup, which he doesn’t understand at all), it/he decided that no vehicles  were permitted in a part of the road near his house, because it was too narrow.  So he put up a sign to that effect.  And regardless of the situation – an ambulance seeking to get close to an emergency, an unaware visitor, a person with a broken leg needing to be dropped off close to their home – no vehicle was allowed to enter that area.  And Ove would make that point to any and every car he saw that broke the rule on the sign.

Don is seeking a woman to marry, because he thinks this is the ‘right’ thing to do.  So he seeks to construct a questionnaire that has the criteria he wants for this woman and abruptly walks away from any woman who does not meet his criteria for a partner.  So questions include whether she smokes, is on time, is a certain size, is organised, likes the food he likes  –  all of which most of us might think are important, but hardly disqualifying criteria for a potential long-term relationship.  Failure on any single criteria constituted the end of the conversation, whereupon he would just walk out or say goodbye, with no explanation, social niceties or graceful departure.

Ove et Don sont content, utile et correct!

Ove and Don are both very helpful people, just not tactful at all.  Ove will help anyone with a genuine need.  Don tries to solve Rosie’s problem, because it interests him and he has some relevant skills.

Most people find both of these characters hilariously funny, because of their extreme reliance on black and white rules, rationality (from their perspective) and their very odd social behaviour, bordering on autistic.  And I do too.  But I also empathised deeply with both of them.  Because, deep down, it’s how I like to operate.  Well, perhaps not to such an extreme and perhaps/hopefully with more grace, but that is how I think.  Get the evidence.  Understand the situation. What’s the best way?  What’s the best solution?  OK.  Got it.  Now let’s do it.  I may or may not be able to explain the ‘best solution’ to someone else, but it’s obvious to me.

And, rather like both Ove and Don, the solutions are often right.  It’s just that others either can’t see them (I get to solutions very quickly), I can’t explain them (a lot of my logic is sub-conscious and hard even for me to unpick to explain) or perhaps I’ve ignored some issues that others might raise as being important.  But, like Ove and Don, if new factual information comes along, I can adjust the solution and get to a new, better solution quickly.  And, like Ove and Don, I’m focussed on the solution, not treating the people involved nicely.  Which is totally the opposite of some people, for whom treatment of the people is fundamental and the outcome of minor importance, they are willing to go any which way if everyone is happy, even if it isn’t rational, sensible or a good solution.

People often miss that Ove and Don are both very happy in their own little worlds.  Women (Parvenehe and Rosie) are sympathetic to them, hoping to change them.  They don’t really need anyone and find people annoying if they don’t ‘see’ the best solutions for everything.  Ove can’t understand why people don’t value physical, mechanical, technical skills anymore and are prepared to pay lots of money to others to make and repair things, when they could do most of it themselves.  Don can’t understand why, in this important area for the society in finding a mate, people rely on some ephemeral, indescribable thing called ‘love’ to start a relationship, rather than rationally specifying all the behaviours that might make a mate compatible.

Why I like Books (and Films)

And that’s why I like books and films.  They enable you to identify with a character and in these particular cases, I feel je suis Ove et Don.  Welcome to my world. (Perhaps that’s what ‘Different Thinking’  is really all about…)

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