Recently I discovered a young Swedish writer named Fredrik Backman, who also possesses the gift of creating compelling characters. In his debut novel, A Man Called Ove, Backman introduces us to a curmudgeon named Ove, whose compulsive personality distances from his neighbors. The neighbors all come with problems and idiosyncrasies that initially offend Ove, but eventually endear them to him.
Backman’s second book, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, introduces us to Elsa, a precocious seven-year-old girl, her rebellious granny, her mother, her stepfather, and an assortment of characters who live in an apartment building in Stockholm. As this unusual group of people interacts, we learn their relationship to Elsa’s granny, whose mission was to save people.
One character from this book, a nagging, precise woman named Britt-Marie, who granny saved, becomes the breakout star of the succeeding tale, Britt-Marie Was Here. Once again, Backman shows how traits that push away some people in Britt-Marie’s life are comforting to others.
In each book Backman portrays each character’s strengths and weaknesses as he tells each one’s story. His spare prose conveys tales that inform and delight readers, and I suspect he will continue to surprise and delight us for years to come.
While characters alone, don’t make good stories, the combination of characters and setting do. Both Backman and Evanovich, about whom I previously wrote, place their people in communities that also shape their characters. But that’s a topic for another day.