Ordfront, 2011. ISBN: 9789170375705
Reviewed by Janny Middelbeek-Oortgiesen in SBR 2012:1
In 2010, PR-consultant Mattias Ronge (b. 1974) made his debut with the novel Tittaren (The Watcher) and, last autumn, his novel Den girige (The Miser) was published. It begins as a thriller: Bernard Mellberg, in his late twenties and a very successful internet businessman, finds himself in the middle of the night, wounded and with his hands tied, on a cellar floor. He has been kidnapped and the kidnapper wants two million Swedish crowns before 5 p.m. that same day. However, Bernard has recently placed almost all of his money in Peru – ‘the Peru model’ – in order to avoid high Swedish taxes. He will not be able to get to the money for some years to come. So, the situation looks very grim for both Bernard and his kidnapper.
The story then shifts focus from the cellar to Bernard’s years as a youngster. His father and elder brother are plumbers, his mother is a librarian and the setting in which Bernard grows up a classical Swedish workingclass home run by a family with strong socialist views. At school he has a hard time, because he is born with an extra hand in his armpit, something that he desperately tries to hide from the other kids. As this isn’t working out in the long run, Bernard becomes the laughing stock of his schoolmates. Fortunately, he has a good brain and makes his way to the prestigious School of Economics in the centre of Stockholm, a place where he is taught ideas almost diametrically opposite to those he grew up. Nevertheless, Bernard is triumphant when he becomes the most successful student and entrepreneur of his class. He still hides his inoperable third hand from the eyes of the environment, and has therefore never really been involved with a woman.
In the meantime, the reader gets acquainted with another character, Denny, a small-time crook and former high school classmate of Bernard’s, who has got involved with mobsters. Denny goes on a journey to New Delhi in order to smuggle out a consignment of cocaine. As he is there, he thinks he might as well take a double amount for private selling in order to be able to buy a small café and start a decent life. Unfortunately, Denny is caught at the airport and has to do three years in jail. During that time, the mobsters write to him once a month in order to remind him of his debt to them.
And then there is Alexandra, a young midwife. She falls in love and moves in with her lover, a policeman, but when she discovers that she is pregnant with another man after a one-night stand, she decides to keep the child. Still, she informs the father – Denny, who decides to take on his responsibility after being released from prison. Meanwhile, the mobsters are chasing him and Denny has to think of a way to come up with two million Swedish crowns…
Mattias Ronge has written an original and humorous novel, in which the reader gradually finds out how the lives of all the characters are intertwined. As for the many fast shifts in perspective and time, they disperse the initial suspense of the story, a suspense that to some degree comes back in the second half of the book. The dialogues are spot on and the narrative pulse beats quickly. The writer knows how to speed up situations and his observations succeed in capturing not only quintessentially Swedish, but also very western phenomena of modern life. Den girige is a good and highly entertaining read.