A man called ove a novel, p.2
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       A Man Called Ove: A Novel, p.2
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           Fredrik Backman

  “Well, I’ll be bloody . . .” Ove thunders through the window as the wheel of the trailer rolls into his flowerbed. A few seconds later his front door seems to fly open of its own accord, as if afraid that Ove might otherwise walk straight through it.

  “What the hell are you doing?” Ove roars at the woman.

  “Yes, that’s what I’m asking myself!” she roars back.

  Ove is momentarily thrown off-balance. He glares at her. She glares back.

  “You can’t drive a car here! Can’t you read?”

  The little foreign woman steps towards him and only then does Ove notice that she’s either very pregnant or suffering from what Ove would categorize as selective obesity.

  “I’m not driving the car, am I?”

  Ove stares silently at her for a few seconds. Then he turns to her husband, who’s just managed to extract himself from the Japanese car and is approaching them with two hands thrown expressively into the air and an apologetic smile plastered across his face. He’s wearing a knitted cardigan and his posture seems to indicate a very obvious calcium deficiency. He must be close to six and a half feet tall. Ove feels an instinctive skepticism towards all people taller than six feet; the blood can’t quite make it all the way up to the brain.

  “And who might you be?” Ove enquires.

  “I’m the driver,” says the Lanky One expansively.

  “Oh, really? Doesn’t look like it!” rages the pregnant woman, who is probably a foot and a half shorter than him. She tries to slap his arm with both hands.

  “And who’s this?” Ove asks, staring at her.

  “This is my wife.” He smiles.

  “Don’t be so sure it’ll stay that way,” she snaps, her pregnant belly bouncing up and down.

  “It’s not as easy as it loo—” the Lanky One tries to say, but he’s immediately cut short.

  “I said RIGHT! But you went on backing up to the LEFT! You don’t listen! You NEVER listen!”

  After that, she immerses herself in half a minute’s worth of haranguing in what Ove can only assume to be a display of the complex vocabulary of Arabic cursing.

  The husband just nods back at her with an indescribably harmonious smile. The very sort of smile that makes decent folk want to slap Buddhist monks in the face, Ove thinks to himself.

  “Oh, come on. I’m sorry,” he says cheerfully, hauling out a tin of chewing tobacco from his pocket and packing it in a ball the size of a walnut. “It was only a little accident, we’ll sort it out!”

  Ove looks at the Lanky One as if the Lanky One has just squatted over the hood of Ove’s car and left a turd on it.

  “Sort it out? You’re in my flowerbed!”

  The Lanky One looks ponderously at the trailer wheels.

  “That’s hardly a flowerbed, is it?” He smiles, undaunted, and adjusts his tobacco with the tip of his tongue. “Naah, come on, that’s just soil,” he persists, as if Ove is having a joke with him.

  Ove’s forehead compresses itself into one large, threatening wrinkle.

  “It. Is. A. Flowerbed.”

  The Lanky One scratches his head, as if he’s got some tobacco caught in his tangled hair.

  “But you’re not growing anything in it—”

  “Never you bloody mind what I do with my own flowerbed!”

  The Lanky One nods quickly, clearly keen to avoid further provocation of this unknown man. He turns to his wife as if he’s expecting her to come to his aid. She doesn’t look at all likely to do so. The Lanky One looks at Ove again.

  “Pregnant, you know. Hormones and all that . . .” he tries, with a grin.

  The Pregnant One does not grin. Nor does Ove. She crosses her arms. Ove tucks his hands into his belt. The Lanky One clearly doesn’t know what to do with his massive hands, so he swings them back and forth across his body, slightly shamefully, as if they’re made of cloth, fluttering in the breeze.

  “I’ll move it and have another go,” he finally says and smiles disarmingly at Ove again.

  Ove does not reciprocate.

  “Motor vehicles are not allowed in the area. There’s a sign.”

  The Lanky One steps back and nods eagerly. Jogs back and once again contorts his body into the under-dimensioned Japanese car. “Christ,” Ove and the pregnant woman mutter wearily in unison. Which actually makes Ove dislike her slightly less.

  The Lanky One pulls forward a few yards; Ove can see very clearly that he does not straighten up the trailer properly. Then he starts backing up again. Right into Ove’s mailbox, buckling the green sheet metal.

  Ove storms forward and throws the car door open.

  The Lanky One starts flapping his arms again.

  “My fault, my fault! Sorry about that, didn’t see the mailbox in the rearview mirror, you know. It’s difficult, this trailer thing, just can’t figure out which way to turn the wheel . . .”

  Ove thumps his fist on the roof of the car so hard that the Lanky One jumps and bangs his head on the doorframe. “Out of the car!”


  “Get out of the car, I said!”

  The Lanky One gives Ove a slightly startled glance, but he doesn’t quite seem to have the nerve to reply. Instead he gets out of his car and stands beside it like a schoolboy in the dunce’s corner. Ove points down the footpath between the row houses, towards the bicycle shed and the parking area.

  “Go and stand where you’re not in the way.”

  The Lanky One nods, slightly puzzled.

  “Holy Christ. A lower-arm amputee with cataracts could have backed this trailer more accurately than you,” Ove mutters as he gets into the car.

  How can anyone be incapable of reversing with a trailer? he asks himself. How? How difficult is it to establish the basics of right and left and then do the opposite? How do these people make their way through life at all?

  Of course it’s an automatic, Ove notes. Might have known. These morons would rather not have to drive their cars at all, let alone reverse into a parking space by themselves. He puts it into drive and inches forward. Should one really have a driver’s license if one can’t drive a real car rather than some Japanese robot vehicle? he wonders. Ove doubts whether someone who can’t park a car properly should even be allowed to vote.

  When he’s pulled forward and straightened up the trailer—as civilized people do before backing up with a trailer—he puts it into reverse. Immediately it starts making a shrieking noise. Ove looks around angrily.

  “What the bloody hell are you . . . why are you making that noise?” he hisses at the instrument panel and gives the steering wheel a whack.

  “Stop it, I said!” he roars at a particularly insistent flashing red light.

  At the same time the Lanky One appears at the side of the car and carefully taps the window. Ove rolls the window down and gives him an irritated look.

  “It’s just the reverse radar making that noise,” the Lanky One says with a nod.

  “Don’t you think I know that?” Ove seethes.

  “It’s a bit unusual, this car. I was thinking I could show you the controls if you like . . .”

  “I’m not an idiot, you know!” Ove snorts.

  The Lanky One nods eagerly.

  “No, no, of course not.”

  Ove glares at the instrument panel.

  “What’s it doing now?”

  The Lanky One nods enthusiastically.

  “It’s measuring how much power’s left in the battery. You know, before it switches from the electric motor to the gas-driven motor. Because it’s a hybrid. . . .”

  Ove doesn’t answer. He just slowly rolls up the window, leaving the Lanky One outside with his mouth half-open. Ove checks the left wing mirror. Then the right wing mirror. He reverses while the Japanese car shrieks in terror, maneuvers the trailer perfectly between his own house and his incompetent new neighbor’s, gets out, and tosses the cretin his keys.

  “Reverse radar and parking sensors and cameras and crap like that. A man who n
eeds all that to back up with a trailer shouldn’t be bloody doing it in the first place.”

  The Lanky One nods cheerfully at him.

  “Thanks for the help,” he calls out, as if Ove hadn’t just spent the last ten minutes insulting him.

  “You shouldn’t even be allowed to rewind a cassette,” grumbles Ove. The pregnant woman just stands there with her arms crossed, but she doesn’t look quite as angry anymore. She thanks him with a wry smile, as if she’s trying not to laugh. She has the biggest brown eyes Ove has ever seen.

  “The Residents’ Association does not permit any driving in this area, and you have to bloody go along with it,” Ove huffs, before stomping back to his house.

  He stops halfway up the paved path between the house and his shed. He wrinkles his nose in the way men of his age do, the wrinkle traveling across his entire upper body. Then he sinks down on his knees, puts his face right up close to the paving stones, which he neatly and without exception removes and re-lays every other year, whether necessary or not. He sniffs again. Nods to himself. Stands up.

  His new neighbors are still watching him.

  “Piss! There’s piss all over the place here!” Ove says gruffly.

  He gesticulates at the paving stones.

  “O . . . kay,” says the black-haired woman.

  “No! Nowhere is bloody okay around here!”

  And with that, he goes into his house and closes the door.

  He sinks onto the stool in the hall and stays there for a long time. Bloody woman. Why do she and her family have to come here if they can’t even read a sign right in front of their eyes? You’re not allowed to drive cars inside the block. Everyone knows that.

  Ove goes to hang up his coat on the hook, among a sea of his wife’s overcoats. Mutters “idiots” at the closed window just to be on the safe side. Then goes into his living room and stares up at his ceiling.

  He doesn’t know how long he stands there. He loses himself in his own thoughts. Floats away, as if in a mist. He’s never been the sort of man who does that, has never been a daydreamer, but lately it’s as if something’s twisted up in his head. He’s having increasing difficulty concentrating on things. He doesn’t like it at all.

  When the doorbell goes it’s like he’s waking up from a warm slumber. He rubs his eyes hard, looks around as if worried that someone may have seen him.

  The doorbell rings again. Ove turns around and stares at the bell as if it should be ashamed of itself. He takes a few steps into the hall, noting that his body is as stiff as set plaster. He can’t tell if the creaking is coming from the floorboards or himself.

  “And what is it now?” he asks the door before he’s even opened it, as if it had the answer.

  “What is it now?” he repeats as he throws the door open so hard that a three-year-old girl is flung backwards by the draft and ends up very unexpectedly on her bottom.

  Beside her stands a seven-year-old girl looking absolutely terrified. Their hair is pitch black. And they have the biggest brown eyes Ove has ever seen.

  “Yes?” says Ove.

  The older girl looks guarded. She hands him a plastic container. Ove reluctantly accepts it. It’s warm.

  “Rice!” the three-year-old girl announces happily, briskly getting to her feet.

  “With saffron. And chicken,” explains the seven-year-old, far more wary of him.

  Ove evaluates them suspiciously.

  “Are you selling it?”

  The seven-year-old looks offended.

  “We LIVE HERE, you know!”

  Ove is silent for a moment. Then he nods, as if he might possibly be able to accept this premise as an explanation.


  The younger one also nods with satisfaction and flaps her slightly-too-long sleeves.

  “Mum said you were ’ungry!”

  Ove looks in utter perplexity at the little flapping speech defect.


  “Mum said you looked hungry. So we have to give you dinner,” the seven-year-old girl clarifies with some irritation. “Come on, Nasanin,” she adds, taking her sister by the hand and walking away after directing a resentful stare at Ove.

  Ove keeps an eye on them as they skulk off. He sees the pregnant woman standing in her doorway, smiling at him before the girls run into her house. The three-year-old turns and waves cheerfully at him. Her mother also waves. Ove closes the door.

  He stands in the hall again. Stares at the warm container of chicken with rice and saffron as one might look at a box of nitroglycerin. Then he goes into the kitchen and puts it in the fridge. Not that he’s habitually inclined to go around eating any old food provided by unknown, foreign kids on his doorstep. But in Ove’s house one does not throw away food. As a point of principle.

  He goes into the living room. Shoves his hands in his pockets. Looks up at the ceiling. Stands there a good while and thinks about what sort of concrete-wall anchor bolt would be most suitable for the job. He stands there squinting until his eyes start hurting. He looks down, slightly confused, at his dented wristwatch. Then he looks out the window again and realizes that dusk has fallen. He shakes his head in resignation.

  You can’t start drilling after dark, everyone knows that. He’d have to turn on all the lights and no one could say when they’d be turned off again. And he’s not giving the electricity company the pleasure, his meter notching up another couple of thousand kronor. They can forget about that.

  Ove packs up his useful-stuff box and takes it to the big upstairs hall. Fetches the key to the attic from its place behind the radiator in the little hall. Goes back and reaches up and opens the trapdoor to the attic. Folds down the ladder. Climbs up into the attic and puts the useful-stuff box in its place behind the kitchen chairs that his wife made him put up here because they creaked too much. They didn’t creak at all. Ove knows very well it was just an excuse, because his wife wanted to get some new ones. As if that was all life was about. Buying kitchen chairs and eating in restaurants and carrying on.

  He goes down the stairs again. Puts back the attic key in its place behind the radiator in the little hall. “Taking it a bit easy,” they said to him. A lot of thirty-one-year-old show-offs working with computers and refusing to drink normal coffee. An entire society where no one knows how to back up with a trailer. Then they come telling him he’s not needed anymore. Is that reasonable?

  Ove goes down to the living room and turns on the TV. He doesn’t watch the programs, but it’s not like he can just spend his evenings sitting there by himself like a moron, staring at the walls. He gets out the foreign food from the fridge and eats it with a fork, straight out of the plastic container.

  It’s Tuesday night and he’s canceled his newspaper subscription, switched off the radiators, and turned out all the lights.

  And tomorrow he’s putting up that hook.



  Ove gives her the plants. Two of them. Of course, there weren’t supposed to be two of them. But somewhere along the line there has to be a limit. It was a question of principle, Ove explains to her. That’s why he got two flowers in the end.

  “Things don’t work when you’re not at home,” he mutters, and kicks a bit at the frozen ground.

  His wife doesn’t answer.

  “There’ll be snow tonight,” says Ove.

  They said on the news there wouldn’t be snow, but, as Ove often points out, whatever they predict is bound not to happen. He tells her this; she doesn’t answer. He puts his hands in his pockets and gives her a brief nod.

  “It’s not natural rattling around the house on my own all day when you’re not here. It’s no way to live. That’s all I have to say.”

  She doesn’t reply to that either.

  He nods and kicks the ground again. He can’t understand people who long to retire. How can anyone spend their whole life longing for the day when they become superfluous? Wandering about, a burden on
society, what sort of man would ever wish for that? Staying at home, waiting to die. Or even worse: waiting for them to come and fetch you and put you in a home. Being dependent on other people to get to the toilet. Ove can’t think of anything worse. His wife often teases him, says he’s the only man she knows who’d rather be laid out in a coffin than travel in a mobility service van. And she may have a point there.

  Ove had risen at quarter to six. Made coffee for his wife and himself, went around checking the radiators to make sure she hadn’t sneakily turned them up. They were all unchanged from yesterday, but he turned them down a little more just to be on the safe side. Then he took his jacket from the hook in the hall, the only hook of all six that wasn’t burgeoning with her clothes, and set off for his inspection. It had started getting cold, he noticed. Almost time to change his navy autumn jacket for his navy winter jacket.

  He always knows when it’s about to snow because his wife starts nagging about turning up the heat in the bedroom. Lunacy, Ove reaffirms every year. Why should the power company directors feather their nests because of a bit of seasonality? Turning up the heat five degrees costs thousands of kronor per year. He knows because he’s calculated it himself. So every winter he drags down an old diesel generator from the attic that he swapped at a rummage sale for a gramophone. He’s connected this to a fan heater he bought at a sale for thirty-nine kronor. Once the generator has charged up the fan heater, it runs for thirty minutes on the little battery Ove has hooked it up to, and his wife keeps it on her side of the bed. She can run it a couple of times before they go to bed, but only a couple—no need to be lavish about it (“Diesel isn’t free, you know”). And Ove’s wife does what she always does: nods and agrees that Ove is probably right. Then she goes around all winter sneakily turning up the radiators. Every year the same bloody thing.

  Ove kicks the ground again. He’s considering telling her about the cat. If you can even call that mangy, half-bald creature a cat. It was sitting there again when he came back from his inspection, practically right outside their front door. He pointed at it and shouted so loudly that his voice echoed between the houses. The cat just sat there, looking at Ove. Then it stood up elaborately, as if making a point of demonstrating that it wasn’t leaving because of Ove, but rather because there were better things to do, and disappeared around the corner.

  Ove decides not to mention the cat to her. He assumes she’ll only be disgruntled with him for driving it away. If she was in charge the whole house would be full of tramps, whether of the furred variety or not.

  He’s wearing his navy suit and has done up the top button of the white shirt. She tells him to leave the top button undone if he’s not wearing a tie; he protests that he’s not some urchin who’s renting out deck chairs, before defiantly buttoning it up. He’s got his dented old wristwatch on, the one that his dad inherited from his father when he was nineteen, the one that was passed on to Ove after his sixteenth birthday, a few days after his father died.

  Ove’s wife likes that suit. She always says he looks so handsome in it. Like any sensible person, Ove is obviously of the opinion that only posers wear their best suits on weekdays. But this morning he decided to make an exception. He even put on his black going-out shoes and polished them with a responsible amount of boot shine.

  As he took his autumn jacket from the hook in the hall before he went out, he threw a thoughtful eye on his wife’s collection of coats. He wondered how such a small human being could have so many winter coats. “You almost expect if you stepped through this lot you’d find yourself in Narnia,” a friend of Ove’s wife had once joked. Ove didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, but he did agree there were a hell of a lot of coats.

  He walked out of the house before anyone on the street had even woken up. Strolled up to the parking area. Opened his garage with a key. He had a remote control for the door, but had never understood the point of it. An honest person could just as well open the door manually. He unlocked the Saab, also with a key: the system had always worked perfectly well, there was no reason to change it. He sat in the driver’s seat and twisted the tuning dial half forward and then half back before adjusting each of the mirrors, as he did every time he got into the Saab. As if someone routinely broke into the Saab and mischievously changed Ove’s mirrors and radio channels.

  As he drove across the parking area he passed that Pregnant Foreign Woman
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