Heart warming, involuntary smile causing, tear creating tale of Ove, Parvaneh, the cat, Sonja, Rune and Saab. It’d been a few years since I read it, so read it again. Glad I did :)

Ove feels an instinctive scepticism towards all people taller than one eighty-five; the blood can’t quite make it all the way up to the brain.


…as Ove’s wife often says: ‘If there’s one thing you could write in Ove’s obituary, it’s “At least he was economical with petrol.”’


Ove’s wife sometimes jokes that the three worst words Ove knows in this life are ‘Batteries not included’.


He looks at her for a long time. Finally he puts his hand carefully on the big boulder and caresses it tenderly from side to side, as if touching her cheek. ‘I miss you,’ he whispers. It’s been six months since she died. But Ove still inspects the whole house twice a day to feel the radiators and check that she hasn’t sneakily turned up the heating.


The only thing he had ever loved until he saw her was numbers. He had no other particular memory of his youth. He was not bullied and he wasn’t a bully, not good at sport and not bad either. He was never at the heart of things and never on the outside. He was the sort of person who was just there.


He remembered that he was quite happy and that for a few years afterwards he wasn’t.


Then Mum died. And Dad grew even quieter. As if she took away with her the few words he’d possessed.


That evening he had to explain everything over and over again to his goggle-eyed son and show all there was to know about this magical monster now parked in their garden. He sat in the driver’s seat half the night, with the boy on his lap, explaining how all the mechanical parts were connected. He could account for every screw, every little tube. Ove had never seen a man as proud as his father was that night.


It was filthy work and badly paid, but, as his father used to mutter, ‘It’s an honest job and that’s worth something.’


‘Four children and a sick wife,’ was all he used to say to his workmates, looking each of them in the eye. ‘Better men than Tom could have ended up worse for it.’


He had only just turned sixteen when his father died. A hurtling carriage on the track. Ove was left with not much more than a Saab, a ramshackle house a few miles out of town and a dented old wristwatch. He was never able to properly explain what happened to him that day. But he stopped being happy. He wasn’t happy for several years after that.


Not because Ove did not believe in God, he explained to the vicar, but because in his view this God seemed to be a bit of a bloody swine.


People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was colour. All the colour he had.


You miss the strangest things when you lose someone. Little things. Smiles. The way she turned round in her sleep.


Of all the imaginable things he most misses about her, the thing he really wishes he could do again is hold her hand in his.


Maybe to her destiny was ‘something’, that was none of his business. But to him, destiny was ‘someone’.


…they managed to build the Eiffel Tower in 1889 but nowadays one couldn’t come up with the bloody drawings for a one-storey house without taking a break for someone to run off and recharge their mobile telephone.


For more than thirty-five years they had paced about on their identical patios behind their identical houses, whilst throwing meaningful glares over the fence. And then one day about a year ago it all came to an end. Rune became ill. Never came out of the house any more. Ove didn’t even know if he still had the BMW. And there was a part of him that missed that bloody old sod.


He stands out there for a few minutes and thinks about how Sonja always used to nag at him to tidy the place up. He always refused, knowing that any new space would immediately be an excuse to go out and buy more useless stuff with which to fill it. And now it’s too late for tidying, he confirms. Now there’s no longer anyone who wants to go out and buy useless stuff.


He went through life with his hands firmly shoved into his pockets. She danced.


‘You only need one ray of light to chase all the shadows away,’ she said to him once, when he asked her why she had to be so upbeat the whole time.


A time comes in all men’s lives when they decide what sort of men they are going to be. Whether they are the kind that let other people tread on them, or not.


The town slowly wakes up around him with its foreign-made cars and its statistics and credit card debt and all its other crap.


‘They say the best men are born out of their faults and that they often improve later on, more than if they’d never done anything wrong,’ she’d said gently.


‘We can busy ourselves with living or with dying, Ove. We have to move on.’


Ove could never make head nor tail of those impossible kids, but he was not beyond liking them for what they did to Sonja.


Every human being needs to know what she’s fighting for. That was what they said. And she fought for what was good. For the children she never had. And Ove fought for her. Because that was the only thing in this world he really knew.


‘There’ll be no stopping here,’ says Ove firmly. Parvaneh eyes him in the rear-view mirror. Ove glares back. Ten minutes later he’s sitting in the Saab, waiting for them all outside McDonald’s. Even the cat has gone inside with them. The traitor.


Ove did not know himself how their animosity had begun, though he knew very well that it ended there and then. Afterwards it was only memories for Ove, and a lack of them for Rune.


Maybe their sorrow over children that never came should have brought the two men closer. But sorrow is unreliable in that way. When people don’t share it there’s a good chance that it will drive them apart instead.


Maybe Ove never forgave Rune for having a son that he could not even get along with. Maybe Rune never forgave Ove for not being able to forgive him for it. Maybe neither of them forgave themselves for not being able to give the women they loved more than anything what they wanted more than anything.


Ove, as Parvaneh had soon realised, was the sort of man who, when he was not quite certain where he was going, just carried on walking straight ahead, convinced that the road would eventually fall into line.


‘You know, Ove, sometimes one almost suspects you have a heart …’


The sooty boy doesn’t comment on his taking the cup outside. It would seem a little unnecessary, under the circumstances, when this man within five minutes of his arrival at the boy’s café has already appointed himself as barista and interrogated him about his sexual preferences.


‘Other wives get annoyed because their husbands don’t notice when they have their hair cut. When I have a haircut my husband is annoyed with me for days because I don’t look the same,’ Sonja used to say.


A home

‘Loving someone is like moving into a house,’ Sonja used to say. ‘At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren’t actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without their creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.’


It is difficult to admit that one is wrong. Particularly when one has been wrong for a very long time.


That evening Ove has his dinner with Parvaneh and Patrick, while a father and son talk about disappointments and hopes and masculinity in two languages in Ove’s kitchen. Maybe most of all they speak of courage.