book review

Ranking and Reviewing Fredrik Backman’s Novels

Hello friends! This is the third time I’m doing a rank post and I’m so excited about putting this post out! I started my journey through Fredrik Backman’s contemporary novels last year, but from the first book I’d read by him, I knew I wanted to read (nearly) every else and rank them in a post. I love how whimsical and comforting most of his novels are, even if they contain darker, sadder parts.

Backman has two books I haven’t yet read, but as of right now I’m not interested in Things My Son Needs to Know about the World, while I don’t yet own Us Against You, a sequel to Beartown. But even without those, this post contains six books by Backman, so I’m hoping it’ll still be useful for those of you looking to choose your next / first Backman book.

You can visit my previous “Ranking” posts if you want to by clicking on the names: Alice Oseman, Emma Mills.

Britt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention. But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes.

When Britt-Marie walks out on her cheating husband and has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg—of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it—she finds work as the caretaker of a soon-to-be demolished recreation center. The fastidious Britt-Marie soon finds herself being drawn into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, layabouts. Most alarming of all, she’s given the impossible task of leading the supremely untalented children’s soccer team to victory. In this small town of misfits, can Britt-Marie find a place where she truly belongs?

Britt-Marie Was Here was the last book I read by Backman, and unfortunately, it’s also my least favorite. While Backman is known for his whimsical settings and characters, I couldn’t help but feel like the characters and the situations they got into in this book were a bit too unrealistic for my taste. With that being said, it was still a nice read, albeit one that was unable to impact me quite as much as Backman’s other books. Actually, I came here to write my review as soon as possible, because I feel like Britt-Marie Was Here is going to be one of those books I’ll forget about relatively fast.

“One morning you wake up with more life behind you than in front of you, not being able to understand how it’s happened.”

While it is a bummer that I finished my read through Backman’s books on an underwhelming note, Britt-Marie Was Here did have many good traits. As per usual, Backman was able to create an engaging story, and that is mostly down to his fantastic characters and the relationships they are building with each other. While I know the ending – which leaves some things to the imagination – wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I actually really liked it. Ultimately, I rated Britt-Marie Was Here four stars, and it is a book I’d recommend it to those that are interested in the premise and those that have read My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry and are interested in reading more about Britt-Marie, a character that first appears there.

Beartown

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

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. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

This was the second book I read by Backman and while I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected to, it was still a very solid read. I think it’s pretty clear that the strength of Backman lies in the way he is able to create complex, engaging characters, no matter if they are good or bad people. With great characters come excellent relationships, for instance between family and friends and as these kinds of connections tend to be my favorite parts in books, this is something that makes me respect Backman as a writer a lot.

“She’s fifteen, above the age of consent, and he’s seventeen, but he’s still “the boy” in every conversation. She’s “the young woman.”

I was worried that a novel that looks at multiple characters – including at perpetrator – and shows their reactions to a rape victim sharing her story might take away the focus from the victim, but I don’t think that was the case. Even though the novel is filled with intriguing characters, I believe Maya shines the brightest. It was excruciatingly painful to read about her rape and I have so much love and respect for this girl. I honestly don’t know what else to say, as I think Beartown is best experienced without little to no knowledge of how the plot will unfold. One last thing, though – I found the ending brilliant as well as unique. This is a four star read that comes highly recommended from me.

A Man Called Ove

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

Ah, the first book I read by Backman, and one of the most special novels I read in 2020. The type of character Ove is – someone who is, to say the least, grumpy and rough around the edges – is one of my favorite types if they are given believable character development. Ove certainly had that and more. Again, I need to highlight that the best parts of the novel were the fantastically made characters and the relationships they formed with other people. Even though he really, and I mean really doesn’t want to interact with any of his neighbors, Ove is slowly but surely pulled into the newcomers’ orbit which forces him to reevaluate certain things and to reconnect with old friends.

“Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn’t.”

While the novel deals with some heavy topics, including suicidal ideation and the loss of a loved one, it is nonetheless a heartwarming tale about love and family. If any of you enjoyed the Pixar film Up, you’ll likely also enjoy this novel, as Ove and his story very much reminded me of the film’s protagonist and his development throughout the movie. A Man Called Ove is easily a five star read.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy, standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

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 letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

As I read more and more books by Backman – My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry was my fifth novel by him – it’s ranking his books is becoming harder and harder. My Grandmother is an incredibly painful novel – not only does it deal with Elsa’s grief over her grandmother’s death, but it also tackles the pain of realizing that we may not have known a loved one as well as we thought. Throughout the course of the novel, Elsa learns a lot about her grandmother, the people in their apartment building, and even about herself.

“Having a grandmother is like having an army. This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details.”

For the longest time, I thought My Grandmother couldn’t reach 5-stars, because I wasn’t feeling all the scenes about the fairy-tale kingdom Elsa and her grandma created. On top of that, I was frustrated by all the Harry Potter references, even though I know full well that Rowling was far less problematic in 2013, which is when the novel was first published. What pushed this book back to 5-stars was how well-written the ending was – it made me so damn emotional and teary; in part because some things broke my heart, in part because the ending was so hopeful.

A Deal of a Lifetime

The Deal of a Lifetime is a profound and moving novella set on Christmas Eve. It tells the story of the intertwining destinies of a man who has built a global business empire but lost his family in the process and a courageous little girl fighting for her life, and it asks the question: if you had the chance to change your legacy, would you take it?

In the touching novella And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, an elderly man sits on a bench with his son and grandson, reminiscing and telling jokes. As he recalls his most precious memories and faces his regrets, the man discovers there is one last thing he must do: help his family learn to say goodbye without fear.

Finally, “Sebastian and the Troll” is Fredrik Backman’s newest work—an eloquent short story about a young boy struggling with depression and how he finds the courage to discover the person he might become.

With his signature humor, compassion, and charm, Backman reminds us that life is a gift, and what matters most is how we share that gift with those we love. 

When I was looking at Backman’s novels, I did not even expect to read this tiny book – a collection of two novellas and a short story – much less to love it as much as I did. Anyone who wants a taste of Backman’s writing should start with this heartfelt collection as two out of the three stories nearly made me cry, which is a big thing for little cold-hearted me.

“It’s bloody awful to admit to yourself that you’re not the kind of person you’ve always thought you were.”

I don’t want to go into the stories one by one, as I feel that could easily turn into me telling you too much about them, but I can say that their characters were just as impressive as the characters in Backman’s full-length novels. Of course, he doesn’t have as much time and place to develop them, but nonetheless I fell in love with them and was so enchanted by their stories. As I said, it was the first and the second story that impressed me the most, but the first one wasn’t bad by any means either; it simply failed to touch me deeply. In any case, the other two still put this book firmly as one of the best Backman books I’ve read.

Anxious People

Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix up their own marriage. There’s a wealthy banker who has been too busy making money to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises, these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in a motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

Going into Anxious People, I’d known very well that this is one of Backman’s most hyped novels – not sure about the numbers or the average rating, but it’s the one I’d heard the most praise for from around the blogosphere. So you could say that my expectations were high, but even so, I was shocked by how quickly this story managed to pull me in. It feels like I was invested from the very first word, and while most of that is – of course – thanks to Backman’s fantastic writing, I also need to give props to the audiobook narrator, Marin Ireland, who is honestly one of the best narrators I’ve ever had the chance to listen to.

“We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we’re more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows.”

I’m definitely repeating myself here, but yet again, it was the characters that made Anxious People special. I love Backman’s ability to portray likable and unlikable characters both in a way that allows the readers to slowly but surely start to empathize with them. As you know from the blurb, multiple different characters are thrown together in a so-called hostage situation, and we can follow as they start to talk to each other and share more and more of themselves with each other and with the readers. I loved the connections that formed between these people who, frankly, couldn’t be more different from each other at first glance, and I found myself tearing up over and over again, especially as we got close to the ending. If you want a book with touching, beautiful moments, then this books is for you.

Summary

I think so far, this is the best experience I’ve had with these posts, because out of the six novels, I ended up rating four books 5 stars, and two 4 stars; that’s really impressive, to say the least. On top of that, Anxious People is definitely one of my new favorite books, as well as one I keep recommending to people and I even bought it for my mom. I’m excited to read Us Against You, as well as anything Backman puts out in the future.

You can visit my previous “Ranking” posts if you want to by clicking on the names: Alice Oseman, Emma Mills.

Let’s chat!

Have you read any of these books? Do you want to? Have you read either of the Backman books I haven’t? If you’ve read multiple books by Backman, which one is your favorite?

17 thoughts on “Ranking and Reviewing Fredrik Backman’s Novels

  1. this is such a great post!! i’ve been wanting to get into backman’s novels but don’t know where to start because they all sound amazing so this is really helpful !! : )

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved reading this! I’ve only read A Man Called Ove but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m hoping to pick up Anxious People soon! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yay, I love these posts so much! I’ve been meaning to read something by Backman for so long, but I haven’t got to any of his books yet. I think I’d probably start with A Man Called Ove, since I’ve been seeing it around for ages. The premises of his books remind me a lot of one of my favourite authors, Jonas Jonasson (The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared). I’m glad I read your reviews though because those books are comedies and it sounds like Backman’s work has a more serious tone. I’d definitely like to give his books a try after reading your wonderful reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Abi! So glad you like these posts. 😀 A Man Called Ove is a really solid choice, I think! I started with that too for the same reason you mentioned – I saw multiple people talk about it. Backman is great at creating whimsical, sometimes comical contemporaries but they definitely have more melancholic parts. Or at least parts that hit me hard.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have read 7 books by Backman, and I think Ove is my favorite. My least favorite was the Grandmother book. I am not sure if it was the book or maybe it just didn’t work on audio for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I read A Man Called Ove and really liked it, and then I read two of his short stories and I didn’t like either of them. I’m still looking forward to continuing reading his other novels!
    Such a well-written post! And thanks for warning about HP references in one of his books. I’ve never heard about that, and I might skip it knowing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 😀 The HP references are A LOT – obviously, it was written years ago was Rowling wasn’t as much of a garbage person as she is now so I can’t blame the author, but I’d recommend avoiding it if they’d bother you a lot. The books are a big part of the granddaughter’s life. :/ Glad you liked Ove, and I hope you’ll love the rest of his books. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. My Grandmother Asked You etc was my first Backman novel and I head over heels loved the writing style and how the story unfolded. I read Beartown last year and it actually ended up being my shared favourite book of the year – I am sorry it wasn’t one that worked for you. I need to read Anxious People soon!

    Liked by 1 person

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