This fabulous and long (670 pages) book concludes a trilogy: previous books were Beartown and Us Against You. Backman’s writing is both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. Two remote forest towns (in Sweden but could be Canada) are intense rivals in hockey and politics. There are two funerals, impending violence and intimidation, and a ferocious summer storm. Backman’s writing is often philosophical: what it means to experience fear, for example. Be warned, the story is very emotional with complicated relationships, especially within families; expect to experience extreme sadness (and tears) when confronting loyalty, friendship and loss.
Backman is a terrific storyteller (Beartown, A Man Called Ove). His new book starts with a failed bank robbery in Sweden which progresses to a hostage situation. What follows is a comic masterpiece with poignant moments. There are laugh-out loud passages, mostly describing idiotic behaviour (not just the hapless bank robber but also by the anxious hostages). There are philosophical chapters with comic insights like “swans can be passive-aggressive bastards”, followed by musings on fear and failure so both humorous and compassionate writing. Highly recommended.
I read these two books back-to-back so my comments will be combined. My friend Hilary introduced me to this author, described as a master of Nordic Noir. The best aspect of these two books is time and place. Both books are set in Northern Sweden where Norway and Finland converge. WW takes place in 1717; MS takes place in the same location 140 years later, in 1856. Living in this isolated setting is exacerbated by weather: bitter winter cold in WW and insomnia for one key character in MS due to continuous summer sunlight. In both books, murders are committed and solved by amateurs, the inhabitants (settlers) in WW or visitors in MS. The chief protagonist in WW is Maija, a woman with two children struggling to survive in the absence of her husband. Both books, but especially WW, have a mystical element (the old religion, aka witchcraft) from the wandering Lapp inhabitants of the region (now Sami). Both books are highly recommended.