I’m starting this What-I’m-Reading series with two books by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman. They are his first book, A Man Called Ove (OOH-vah), and his latest book, Anxious People. Backman has become quite a phenomenon, publishing a series of books, some of which have been made into movies, including Ove.
Ove is a grumpy, get-off-my-lawn old guy with rigid standards about almost everything, such as cars. He’s not a fan of Volvos, and God help you if you drive a BMW.
As the story progresses, we learn about his history and how, over time, he grudgingly helps a growing assortment of people you wouldn’t expect him to help. He is a curmudgeon with a soft heart, but this is not a formulaic rendition of that narrative. It is a unique and very touching story about a man who gradually opens his heart. It’s also a story with wickedly funny observations about modern life.
Like whodunits that assemble unlikely casts of characters, Anxious People tells the story of a group of prospective homebuyers at a house showing who are the focus of a mystery that unfolds throughout the novel. The troupe also includes the real estate agent, a pair of police officers, a therapist, bank teller, and a hostage-taker.
Like Ove, Anxious People is full of wry off-hand reflections of modern life. The stories could take place in almost any modern industrial society. Anxious People has a running joke about Stockholm, but one could substitute any place whose citizens are perceived to be arrogant about supposed hicks in the provinces.
Both books present characters that seem unsympathetic at first but show their perspectives, revealing people you want to care about. Indeed, there’s a sense at the end of both books that everyone – or at least most people – are good at heart, though it may take some effort to see that reality. Of course, there are truly nasty and evil people, but probably fewer than many of us believe.