A Man Called Ove: Fredrik Backman

★★★★

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I have a huge soft spot for Fredrik Backman. He has a talent for writing charming, heartwarming stories about human nature in small communities. Here are the vulnerable, real people beneath the spiny carapaces of the curmudgeons we meet in our daily life, laid bare with compassion and gentleness. And there’s no curmudgeon quite like Ove. This was Backmann’s debut novel and, while already displaying the hallmarks he would develop in his later books, it’s probably the darkest of the three I’ve read so far. That’s mainly because, when we first meet Ove, he’s very carefully preparing to commit suicide.

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Britt-Marie Was Here: Frederik Backman

★★★★

In the wake of My Grandmother sends her Regards and Apologises, I was keen to read more of Frederik Backman’s gently ironic stories. Luckily, my library also had Britt-Marie Was Here in stock. This takes place after My Grandmother and so, if you’ve read that, you’ll understand more of the backstory here. However, Britt-Marie also serves very easily as a standalone tale, a life-affirming story of an anxious, touchy middle-aged woman learning that she still has something to offer the world – and herself.

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My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises: Fredrik Backman

★★★★

Fredrik Backman has sidled into my awareness during the last couple of months and I now marvel that it took me so long to discover him. Funnily enough, this wasn’t the first of his books that I planned to read – that was his debut novel, A Man Called Ove – but when I spotted it in the library the other day, I thought I’d take the plunge. And it is absolutely brilliant. A big-hearted, generous, poignant novel, this tells the story of almost-eight-year-old Elsa, her rakish Granny, the wonderful world of fairy tales that they share, and the treasure hunt that Granny leaves behind for Elsa when she dies. A story of eccentricities, regrets and second chances, this had me choking back tears at least three times, while simultaneously wanting to give it a massive bear-hug. Utterly magical.

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The Parable Book: Per Olov Enquist

★★★

My one previous experience with Per Elov Enquist was via his novel The Visit of the Royal Physician, and it wasn’t an entirely comfortable introduction. I puzzled over what to make of the book’s jagged, disjointed style and was troubled by its detached emotional tone. At the time I wondered whether it was down to author, or translator, but now I can say, quite confidently, that it’s the author’s style. The Parable Book, translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner, has much the same cool, conceptual flavour. It is, however, a rather different beast from the Royal Physician: whereas that was a clear historical novel, this book weaves between genres. Is it novel, autobiography, family memoir, confessional history or philosophical exploration? It is even more disorientating than the Royal Physician, but it makes its mark: there’s something fierce and vivid and urgent at its heart.

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Anno 1790: Season 1

Anno 1790

★★★★

(Sveriges Television, 2011)

I’ve been meaning to write about this for ages and, if I don’t do so now, I will completely forget to mention it; and that would be a shame, because this really is rather good. You’ll be aware by now that I don’t really do crime fiction. It’s not that I have a problem with it per se, but I prefer historical fiction and fantasy, and there are plenty of those books to keep me amused for now. I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, of course, but the Millennium Trilogy is about as far as I ever got into the Scandi-crime field. However, I recently stumbled across Anno 1790, an excellent 2011 TV series from SVT (the Swedish national broadcaster). It combines crime investigation, historical drama and just a hint of illicit romance. It’s full of gorgeously bleak, brooding views of 18th-century Stockholm and features a sensitive, educated and equally brooding hero.

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The Visit of the Royal Physician: Per Olov Enquist

★★★

Per Olov Enquist’s novel was a great success in his native Sweden, where it won the 1999 August Prize, and its critical acclaim continued with this English translation by Tiina Nunnally, which won the 2003 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. It was also one of the sources of inspiration for the very good 2012 Danish film A Royal Affair, which I enjoyed immensely. Enquist’s novel shares much of its atmosphere with the film. It is a stark, claustrophobic and disturbing account of the ménage à trois which existed at the Danish court from 1769 until 1772, between the mad King Christian VII, his English wife Caroline Mathilde (younger sister of George III) and the German doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee, whose appointment as Royal Physician offers him all manner of opportunities.

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The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared: Jonas Jonasson

★★★★

Many of you will, most likely, already have read this: it’s been one of the hit books of the last twelve months and its cover has caught my eye many a time on bookshops’ bestsellers tables. It’s a wonder that it took me so long to get round to reading it, because Hesperus are one of my favourite independent presses; I went through a phase of compulsively buying a whole variety of books from their Classics series. Now that I’ve finally had the chance to sample The Hundred-Year-Old Man, I can completely understand why it’s been so popular. It reads like the irreverent love-child of Forrest Gump and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, feeding off the contemporary hunger for Scandi-crime novels but transporting its readers into a quirky genre that’s all on its own.

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