A Man Called Ove: A Novel

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Ove is fifty-nine.

He drives a Saab. He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s flashlight. He stands at the counter of a shop where owners of Japanese cars come to purchase white cables. Ove eyes the sales assistant for a long time before shaking a medium-sized white box at him.

“So this is one of those O-Pads, is it?” he demands.

The assistant, a young man with a single-digit body mass index, looks ill at ease. He visibly struggles to control his urge to snatch the box out of Ove’s hands.

“Yes, exactly. An iPad. Do you think you could stop shaking it like that . . . ?”

Ove gives the box a skeptical glance, as if it’s a highly dubious sort of box, a box that rides a scooter and wears tracksuit pants and just called Ove “my friend” before offering to sell him a watch.

“I see. So it’s a computer, yes?”

The sales assistant nods. Then hesitates and quickly shakes his head.

“Yes . . . or, what I mean is, it’s an iPad. Some people call it a ‘tablet’ and others call it a ‘surfing device.’ There are different ways of looking at it. . . .”

Ove looks at the sales assistant as if he has just spoken backwards, before shaking the box again.

“But is it good, this thing?”

The assistant nods confusedly. “Yes. Or . . . How do you mean?”

Ove sighs and starts talking slowly, articulating his words as if the only problem here is his adversary’s impaired hearing.

“Is. It. Goooood? Is it a good computer?”

The assistant scratches his chin.

“I mean . . . yeah . . . it’s really good . . . but it depends what sort of computer you want.”

Ove glares at him.

“I want a computer! A normal bloody computer!”

Silence descends over the two men for a short while. The assistant clears his throat.

“Well . . . it isn’t really a normal computer. Maybe you’d rather have a . . .”

The assistant stops and seems to be looking for a word that falls within the bounds of comprehension of the man facing him. Then he clears his throat again and says:

“. . . a laptop?”

Ove shakes his head wildly and leans menacingly over the counter.

“No, I don’t want a ‘laptop.’ I want a computer.”

The assistant nods pedagogically.

“A laptop is a computer.”

Ove, insulted, glares at him and stabs his forefinger at the counter.

“You think I don’t know that!”

Another silence, as if two gunmen have suddenly realized they have forgotten to bring their pistols. Ove looks at the box for a long time, as though he’s waiting for it to make a confession.

“Where does the keyboard pull out?” he mutters eventually.

The sales assistant rubs his palms against the edge of the counter and shifts his weight nervously from foot to foot, as young men employed in retail outlets often do when they begin to understand that something is going to take considerably more time than they had initially hoped.

“Well, this one doesn’t actually have a keyboard.”

Ove does something with his eyebrows. “Ah, of course,” he splutters. “Because you have to buy it as an ‘extra,’ don’t you?”

“No, what I mean is that the computer doesn’t have a separate keyboard. You control everything from the screen.”

Ove shakes his head in disbelief, as if he’s just witnessed the sales assistant walking around the counter and licking the glass-fronted display cabinet.

“But I have to have a keyboard. You do understand that?”

The young man sighs deeply, as if patiently counting to ten.

“Okay. I understand. In that case I don’t think you should go for this computer. I think you should buy something like a MacBook instead.”

“A McBook?” Ove says, far from convinced. “Is that one of those blessed ‘eReaders’ everyone’s talking about?”

“No. A MacBook is a . . . it’s a . . . laptop, with a keyboard.”

“Okay!” Ove hisses. He looks around the shop for a moment. “So are they any good, then?”

The sales assistant looks down at the counter in a way that seems to reveal a fiercely yet barely controlled desire to begin clawing his own face. Then he suddenly brightens, flashing an energetic smile.

“You know what? Let me see if my colleague has finished with his customer, so he can come and give you a demonstration.”

Ove checks his watch and grudgingly agrees, reminding the assistant that some people have better things to do than stand around all day waiting. The assistant gives him a quick nod, then disappears and comes back after a few moments with a colleague. The colleague looks very happy, as people do when they have not been working for a sufficient stretch of time as sales assistants.

“Hi, how can I help you?”

Ove drills his police-flashlight finger into the counter.

“I want a computer!”

The colleague no longer looks quite as happy. He gives the first sales assistant an insinuating glance as if to say he’ll pay him back for this.

In the meantime the first sales assistant mutters, “I can’t take anymore, I’m going for lunch.”

“Lunch,” snorts Ove. “That’s the only thing people care about nowadays.”

“I’m sorry?” says the colleague and turns around.

“Lunch!” He sneers, then tosses the box onto the counter and swiftly walks out.




It was five to six in the morning when Ove and the cat met for the first time. The cat instantly disliked Ove exceedingly. The feeling was very much reciprocated.

Ove had, as usual, gotten up ten minutes earlier. He could not make head nor tail of people who overslept and blamed it on “the alarm clock not ringing.” Ove had never owned an alarm clock in his entire life. He woke up at quarter to six and that was when he got up.

Every morning for the almost four decades they had lived in this house, Ove had put on the coffee percolator, using exactly the same amount of coffee as on any other morning, and then drank a cup with his wife. One measure for each cup, and one extra for the pot—no more, no less. People didn’t know how to do that anymore, brew some proper coffee. In the same way as nowadays nobody could write with a pen. Because now it was all computers and espresso machines. And where was the world going if people couldn’t even write or brew a pot of coffee?

While his proper cup of coffee was brewing, he put on his navy blue trousers and jacket, stepped into his wooden clogs, and shoved his hands in his pockets in that particular way of a middle-aged man who expects the worthless world outside to disappoint him. Then he made his morning inspection of the street. The surrounding row houses lay in silence and darkness as he walked out the door, and there wasn’t a soul in sight. Might have known, thought Ove. On this street no one took the trouble to get up any earlier than they had to. Nowadays, it was just self-employed people and other disreputable sorts living here.

The cat sat with a nonchalant expression in the middle of the footpath that ran between the houses. It had half a tail and only one ear. Patches of fur were missing here and there as if someone had pulled it out in handfuls. Not a very impressive feline.

Ove stomped forward. The cat stood up. Ove stopped. They stood there measuring up to each other for a few moments, like two potential troublemakers in a small-town bar. Ove considered throwing one of his clogs at it. The cat looked as if it regretted not bringing its own clogs to lob back.

“Scram!” Ove bellowed, so abruptly that the cat jumped back. It briefly scrutinized the fifty-nine-year-old man and his clogs, then turned and lolloped off. Ove could have sworn it rolled its eyes before clearing out.

Pest, he thought, glancing at his watch. Two minutes to six. Time to get going or the bloody cat would have succeeded in delaying the entire inspection. Fine state of affairs that would be.

He began marching along the footpath between the houses. He stopped by the traffic sign informing motorists that they were prohibited from entering the residential area. He gave the metal pole a firm kick. Not that it was wonky or anything, but it’s always best to check. Ove is the sort of man who checks the status of all things by giving them a good kick.

He walked across the parking area and strolled back and forth along all the garages to make sure none of them had been burgled in the night or set on fire by gangs of vandals. Such things had never happened around here, but then Ove had never skipped one of his inspections either. He tugged three times at the door handle of his own garage, where his Saab was parked. Just like any other morning.

After this, he detoured through the guest parking area, where cars could only be left for up to twenty-four hours. Carefully he noted down all the license n ...

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