The moving stories of Fredrik Backman
By Bessie Sullivan, Haliburton County Public Library CEO
Bessie's Books and Other Things
Published Feb. 15, 2018
I discovered a writer last year that I really loved. Fredrik Backman lives in Sweden and he has written four novels to date, debuting in 2012 with A Man Called Ove. The Haliburton County Public Library has all four novels as well as the movie version of A Man Called Ove that was shown in the fall of 2017 as part of line-up for Those Other Movies.
Backman has a humorous and empathetic style that really appeals to me. There is something about Ove; at first sight, he is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet. The book opens with Ove having very little left to live for, and a new neighbour who takes out his mailbox with the moving truck. He is furious that even basic skills like backing up a truck seem to have been lost in our current culture of high tech. But as the story unfolds you realize that Ove has had his share of troubles, has loved deeply and loyally, and is certainly capable of loving again.
In My Grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry, the main character is a precocious seven-year-old named Elsa. Her grandmother is 77 years old and eccentric. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s instructions lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones – but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.
A character from My Grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry is Britt-Marie. She is a compelling person and I was delighted to discover that she has a book of her own. For as long as anyone can remember, Britt-Marie has been an acquired taste. It’s not that she’s judgemental, or fussy, or difficult – she just expects things to be done in a certain way. So when Britt-Marie finds herself unemployed, separated from her husband of 20 years, left to fend for herself in the miserable provincial backwater that is Borg, and somehow tasked with running the local football team, she is a little unprepared. In the book Britt-Marie was here, she will learn that life may have more to offer her that she’s ever realized.
Backman’s most recent novel is called Beartown and could be about any small town anywhere in the world. Beartown’s industry is dying, they are losing their young people to bigger and better places, and they pin all their dreams on a junior hockey team to save them and their town. Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain.
Some of the themes that prevail in all of Backman’s writing are love and loss, friendship and loyalty, kindness and empathy. Individuality of character is also a strong theme, and the right to be different. These books are not sanitized, lots of bad things happen in all of them, but how the people in each situation handle the crisis is what make them unique and lovable.
Looking back at my reading log from 2017, I realized I read these four novels in the first half of the year. It is unusual for me to dedicate so much attention to one writer in such a short time span. The fact that I did is a testament of how much I liked all of these books.