In the contemporary era of literature, there have been quite a few names that have cropped up. Ishiguro, Murakami, Lang Leav and others. However I’m not going to talk about either of them. I want to talk about Fredrik Backman.
Fredrik Backman appeared in the annals of literature with his debut novel A Man Called Ove in 2012. Originally written in his native Swedish, it was quickly translated and became a hit shortly after it was published. The story of a cynical 59 year old widower, who finds some meaning in life after being befriended by the family that moves in next door is a tale fit for both children and adults alike. The book takes us on a journey. It tells us Ove’s story- how he worked at the railroad company, how he fell in love and married, how he outlived his wife and how ultimately his life changed totally. The story is bittersweet and hopeful and as a debut novel, hits most of the right notes. However, while reading the book, I felt that Backman was holding back- that there was more to this man than he was letting on. It was my introduction to Backman, who is now one of my favourite authors.
The second book I read by Backman was My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologies. Here again, the story was simple. It was the tale of a little girl and her grandmother. Her grandmother told her bedtime stories about the make believe land of Miamas, which had fallen angels, a hero to rival Gandalf the Gray and villains who steal your imagination. I loved how Backman executed a successful marriage between the fantastic and the believable. The story takes place in a leaseholder’s association, bereft with politics and people whose stories are humane and sometimes tragic. Here, I felt that the gloves Backman was wearing when he wrote Ove were slowly coming off. How surely they would come off was a question that I asked myself. While reading this book, my second Backman novel, I felt wonderful. It is no secret that Backman’s novels have a certain emotional quotient to them and this one was chock full of emotions. We were seeing the world as seen by a seven year old. She was however a mature seven year old. She knew what a spade was and what to call a spade, should ever the need arise. With memorable characters like Alf and Wolfheart, this novel was a joy to read and helped me learn how to respect the weaknesses all people have.
The third book I read by Fredrik Backman was the one in which the metaphorical gloves came off completely and the haymakers started to land. I’m talking about Beartown. A hockey star takes advantage of a drunk girl. What follows is a roller coaster ride. The subject matter is mature, the language adult and the theme dealt with in equal parts of sensitivity and shock value. The rape of this girl tears her family apart. We are taken step by step through the usual proceedings of what a victim goes through- the fear of the world outside, the heartlessness of the people who claim she’s “just trying to garner attention”, the trauma that the parents face when they realize they cannot protect their children from the wolves baying at the door. We see loyalty. We see betrayal. We see conflict. We see a fifteen year old boy risk everything for a girl he’s in love with. The dark side of humanity is laid bare for the reader to gouge is eyes out on. Backman has arrived. What an entrance it is. Beartown changed the way I felt about Backman’s work. He’s doing everything but holding back in this novel.
I have tried to give as little as I can in the way of spoilers in this article. I strongly feel that Fredrik Backman is a good storyteller with the versatility needed to continue enthralling his readers. If you’re looking for an author who writes with not just ink but blood as well, Backman is the man for you. If you want unusual stories that stay with you, Backman is the man for you. If you want stories that make you think about the quality of life you have and the quality of life other people around you do, why Backman is the man for you.
~ This is a guest blog by Ashesh Mitra