To me, Fredrik Backman is synonyms with quirky but lovable characters. Every novel I read of his made me adore his writing because of his ability to create these flawed characters. His sense of humor and ability to write about some dark topics in a lighthearted way impresses me as well. He’s quickly become an author that I’ve found easy to recommend, and every time I find a copy of his books, they’ve become auto-buys. I’m steadily making my way through his body of work, and always anticipate hearing other readers discuss his novels.
A Man Called Ove
Published: August 27, 2012, Atria Books
Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: suicide, grief, death.
The raves and reviews on this book told me to pick it up, but there was something about this novel that had me doubting I would like it. However, the joke is on me, because by the time I finished the audiobook (3 days, start to finish) I had tears in my eyes and love in my heart for a man called Ove.
“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.”
Ove (pronounced oo-vah) is a cantankerous old gentleman who likes order, maintenance, surveillance, and Saabs. He sees things in black and white- rules are rules, and if you are going to do something, it needs to be done right the first time. So when his new neighbors drive through his residential area and flatten his mailbox with their trailer, Ove is not happy. His plans are interrupted, his young neighbors clearly don’t know how to back up a trailer (inexcusable!), and now his has to fix his mailbox. His new neighbors are apologetic, embarrassed, and a tense at each other, but Ove’s grumping doesn’t put them off. Ove actually ends up helping them out, and for reasons he can’t understand, they’re actually friendly to him. Nonetheless, Ove doesn’t have time for pleasantries. He’s got things to do.
Then, he’s interrupted again. This time by a newspaper kid who asks about Ove’s wife, Sonja. He’s not sure why, but when the kid tells him he’s really sorry to hear about her illness and passing, that she was a wonderful teacher who got him to read Shakespeare, Ove’s annoyance with him minutely lessens. Before he knows and understands why, he’s offering to help the kid out fixing up a bicycle. He figures he can squeeze it into his schedule, and still accomplish what he needs to get done.
And so the story goes, with Backman revealing layer by layer this grumbling geezer who has a very sweet and adorable past built around his late wife. Backman goes into detail about where Ove grew up, what his family life was like, how he came to be the man he was, how strongly he felt about craftsmanship and his Saabs. In between every anecdote, you see how much Ove loved Sonja, and how lonely and little purpose he felt without her, and how just a few people could put some color back into his life.
I fell pretty hard for this novel. It’s cleverly written, the pace is excellent, and the story keeps you guessing where the plot is going to take you. I loved the recollections in the novel, and how everything was rather straight forward, just like Ove. Very fitting. I highly recommend the read, and am certainly keeping this one in my personal library!
My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry
Published: September 4, 2013, Washington Square Press
Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: cancer, grief, death.
Elsa is seven- almost eight– and her grandmother is her very best friend. Her granny tells her stories about Miamas and The Land of Almost Awake, in which nobody is normal or what they seem. When Elsa isn’t lured into the stories, being a knight and all, she is spending time with her grandmother. Together, they get into loads of trouble, usually to Elsa’s mother’s dismay.
“So I thought instead you could remember it as the day your Granny broke into a zoo—” “And escaped from a hospital,” Elsa says with a grin. “And escaped from a hospital,” says Granny with a grin. “And threw turds at the police.” “Actually, it was soil! Or mainly soil, anyway.” “Changing memories is a good superpower, I suppose.” Granny shrugs. “If you can’t get rid of the bad, you have to top it up with more goody stuff.”
Then, Elsa overhears her granny discussing her will with her lawyer, and finds out that Granny has been diagnosed with cancer. Though she knows what cancer is thanks to Wikipedia, she doesn’t quite know how to accept the day her Granny passes away. But then, Elsa is given a secret task – passing along apology letters from Granny. As Elsa sets out on her journey to understand why her grandmother asked this of her, she slowly accumulates a few friends- The Monster and The Worse, a pair who come to her aid more than once. Along the way, she learns about her grandmother’s past and the truth behind Miamas and it’s residents.
Overall, I enjoyed the tale and thought the plot line was adorable, as each character in Elsa’s grandmother’s fairy tales came alive in real life. I also loved the quick witted humor of Backman- just as with A Man Called Ove, there would be serious moments punctuated with a perfectly timed punchline that would make me laugh. Though the plot centers around death and righting wrongs of the past, the point of view from a young main character keeps it lighthearted and innocent. Quick paced, as long as you don’t get bogged down in the fantasy vs reality aspect (which I’ll admit occasionally tripped me up), My Grandmother… is a sweet tale for readers of all ages.
Britt-Marie Was Here
Published: October 3, 2014, Atria Books
Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: obsessive compulsive disorder, germophobia, adultery, grief, blindness, death.
Britt-Marie Was Here is a really great traditional Backman novel in which a conservative middle-aged woman decides to leave her husband who has been cheating on her, restarting her life. After years of pretending that her husband Kent wasn’t cheating, she finally had enough. However, she struggled to let go of the identity of being a woman who maintains a household and husband. She’s also a bit of an odd duck, in that she’s very rigid in her traditional ways, has a serious obsession with sodium bicarbonate, and terrified that one day when she dies, nobody will notice her passing or remember her. She isn’t what you would call a “warm” person, so she essentially has to learn how to relax, open up, and connect with the new people around her.
As time goes on she find her own identity and her voice, standing up for herself and others. She ends up living over a pizzeria in a low-income area of town, and starts incorporating herself into the town. As her character develops, I think she surprises herself by what she can do and what she can learn when she opens her mind. She gets roped into coaching a soccer team- despite her lack of soccer knowledge- by a group of kids that become rather dear to her. She also ends up conflicted about her feelings for another man.
As always Backman makes such realistic and beautifully flawed characters that, by the end of the novel, are revealed to be so much more relatable than what they seemed. I thought for sure that I wasn’t gonna like Britt-Marie in the beginning, but by the end of I understood her and so much more. She was more than just a traditional housewife who only went by her husband’s thoughts and opinions.
Overall I enjoyed the mostly lighthearted and witty novel. I really like how Backman always keeps his plot simple but always includes complex and deep themes within his novels such as, in this case, identity, loss, grief, classism, and prejudice. I also enjoyed how Backman incorporated football- or what we call in America, soccer. Britt-Marie would ask other characters about why they loved or rooted for certain teams, and I found the responses interesting in how they were so different from each other. Many struggled to explain why they routed for a team, but when they did, it was pretty insightful- beyond the team they were even rooting for, these answers shared what those people cared most about and where their hope stems from. I really thought that was a great way to connect with the readers. I would definitely would recommend the book or the audiobook of Britt-Marie Was Here.
Categories: Author Spotlights