I’ve been a fan of Fredrik Backman ever since reading My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises (which I believe is titled slightly differently across the pond), which appears to have been before I started doing book chats. Which is probably good, because I think I’d have just got a bit squeaky and gushy about it.
Backman writes beautifully, and I loved A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie Was Here as well. He has a distinctive voice and a beautiful way with words that just captivates me, plus I have a soft spot for Nordic literature of the slightly different sort (no Stieg Larsson for me, thanks). He captures both the environment and the momentous nature of change within our lives beautifully, whether he’s writing from a child’s magic-tinged point of view or that of a cantankerous old man. His books have been happy/sad tears territory for me, which doesn’t happen a lot.
But it took me a long time to get to Beartown. I have a tendency to avoid reviews for books I know I’m going to read anyway, so I went into the story not knowing exactly what it was about. The cover, though, made it clear that this wasn’t going to be as gentle and beautiful as his other books, so I was nervous about it. I wanted to love it, but was worried it might be a massive change of direction for him.
And I was right and wrong.
It was a change of direction, but not massive, exactly. It’s as if, having been writing about events at the level of one person’s life, Backman stepped up to writing at the level of a community. The event that the story pivots around is proportionally bigger and darker, but there’s still this clear sense of a before and after narrative. And the story is so strong, and so timely, and handled so well. The discussion of division within a community, of the power of the words we use to shape the world around us, to create barriers or to command loyalty – it’s astonishing. And frightening.
I can’t say I loved Beartown, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. Backman’s writing’s still just as beautiful and powerful, and what he’s writing about it so intensely important. It’s an incredible book, but reading it hurts. It’s hard to say you love something that hurts to read. But I’ll be reading his sequel to it, and anything else he brings out after that.
I’ll just be hanging out with some middle-grade adventure for a bit first.
So tell me, lovely people – have you read Beartown, or any of Backman’s other books? Did you enjoy them? What other Nordic writers would you recommend? Let me know below!