I was in Crossword one day when I came across a book with an intriguing title: My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises.
Now, I’m a fan of weird titles. So naturally, I picked the book up expecting it to be as weird and intriguing as its title. It was neither.
What it was, was excruciatingly, beautifully, agonisingly heart-wrenching. And I, despite my love for comedy, was hooked. That was the beginning of my love for the writing of Fredrik Backman. I’ve read a lot of his books and two things stand out for me in all his work.
First, the characters. Characters so wonderfully developed, they become flesh and blood in your mind. They are innocent, they are flawed, they are terrible, but whatever they are is a result of their history and you are not spared that knowledge. Ove is cantankerous for a reason. Britt-Marie is a control freak for a reason. Every Backman character has a solid back story, an understandable reason for why they do what they do. And these back stories are seamlessly woven into the narrative.
You can always tell when a back story exists simply to help the plot progress or to explain a character’s completely uncharacteristic actions. It happens a lot on the show Suits. Two lawyers are talking about a case and suddenly one of them goes, “I grew up without a father,” and you’re like what the fuck? Why is that relevant? And then you go oh, it’s so they can explain why she donates to a charity for orphans. It’s badly done.
But with Backman’s characters? The back story seeps slowly into the character, building the character in your mind, till their actions seem not just logical, but inevitable. They’re masterpieces and the plot is driven by their personalities, not the other way around.
In third year lit, we were studying King Lear and one of the topics we often discussed was Is character destiny in King Lear? It certainly is in Backman’s work. And because these characters face real struggles, difficult choices and their decisions shape the events in the book. Which is why his books all depict the second thing that makes them stand out.
It’s difficult to describe what ‘writing with heart’ means. In our listicle-addicted reading patterns, there isn’t a convenient list of Signs That This Writing Has Heart. But to me, if you read something insightful and powerful, something that reads as if the author’s very heart has found its way into the text, something that moves you and touches your heart with its undeniable truth, then I call it writing with heart.
I can only hope I write something as powerful one day. Till then, I’ll content myself with travelling to the worlds and people Fredrik Backman creates.