In June last year I took a book on holiday called A Man Called Ove. I’d heard that it was good and had read a few reviews but I was taken by surprise by quite how brilliant it really was. I fell in love with its wonderfully original style, its quirky cast of characters and a story that was both uproariously funny and achingly sad. I quickly followed with My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises and Britt-Marie Was Here, both of which I adored in equal measure. They are books that help us to see the extraordinary in the everyday and beauty in some unlikely places.
What sets Backman apart is his profound understanding of human nature. The basic premise of all of his books is that there is more to people than the outer facades so frequently scorned and dismissed by society. We instantly recognise Ove, the cantankerous and pedantic old man who everybody has probably had at some point or other as a neighbour; the titular outrageous, pulls-no-punches grandmother who breaks the rules and causes havoc wherever she goes; or the fussy, prim and rule-abiding Britt-Marie, behind whose back we might all be guilty of rolling our eyes and asking why she can’t just loosen up a bit. And yet, by the end of his novels, his characters have become complex, many-layered and, ultimately, intensely loveable individuals who have helped to make the world around them that little bit brighter and who have been changed themselves as a result.
Backman is also a master of weaving devastating insights about life, loss, community, love and friendship into his narrative that absolutely hit the nail on the head. I often found myself nodding my head along with the rightness of it. Written in his trademark, almost deceptively simple prose, he demonstrates a profound understanding of human nature that sets him apart as an author. While some of his observations can indeed be hilarious, they also have the power to break your heart into small pieces with a sledgehammer. Below I’ve put some of my favourite quotes from all three novels that I think best exemplify this.
“Granny then said the real trick of life was that almost no one is entirely a shit and almost no one is entirely not a shit. The hard part of life is keeping as much on the not-a-shit side as one can.”
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises
“We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.”
A Man Called Ove
“All passion is childish. It’s banal and naïve. It’s nothing we learn; it’s instinctive, and so it overwhelms us. Overturns us. It bears us away in a flood. All other emotions belong to the earth, but passion inhabits the universe.”
Britt-Marie Was Here
I could go on, but as one of the members of my book group said when I set My Grandmother Sends Her Regards a few months back, “I could open this book at any page and find something amazing to quote.” All I will say is, if you’re looking for a book that will make you sit up straight, something that is warm, funny and original and that you will remember for a long time to come, try Fredrik Backman. They can be read in any order, although I would advise reading A Man Called Ove first, as it is his debut and a great introduction into what Backman is all about. Although Britt-Marie is a spin-off character from My Grandmother Sends Her Regards, they are separate enough that it doesn’t really matter which one you read first. But do read them. You won’t regret it.