Thursday, May 5, 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

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From the bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, a heartwarming and hilarious story of a reluctant outsider who transforms a tiny village and a woman who finds love and second chances in the unlikeliest of places.

Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. She eats dinner at precisely the right time and starts her day at six in the morning because only lunatics wake up later than that. And she is not passive-aggressive. Not in the least. It's just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention.

But at sixty-three, Britt-Marie has had enough. She finally walks out on her loveless forty-year marriage and finds a job in the only place she can: Borg, a small, derelict town devastated by the financial crisis. For the fastidious Britt-Marie, this new world of noisy children, muddy floors, and a roommate who is a rat (literally), is a hard adjustment.

As for the citizens of Borg, with everything that they know crumbling around them, the only thing that they have left to hold onto is something Britt-Marie absolutely loathes: their love of soccer. When the village’s youth team becomes desperate for a coach, they set their sights on her. She’s the least likely candidate, but their need is obvious and there is no one else to do it.

Fredrik Backman has a gift for writing about quirky people in unusual situations thereby creating some memorable stories. He did it with AMan Called Ove (one of my Top 10 of 2015) and he’s done it here again. This time it’s about Britt-Marie, a woman in her early sixties who walks out on a rather dissatisfying marriage. In this new world, an inexperienced Britt-Marie has to find a proper job. The question is if she can find one that bends to her liking. See, she’s rather fastidious in her opinion that things have to be in a certain order or done a certain way. Anything otherwise would be considered “uncivilized”. For example, the cutlery drawer needs to be arranged as such: forks, knives, spoons. Or dinner should be eaten at 6 o’clock, no later and no earlier. Her adherence to social etiquette can test one’s patience but there’s just something so loveable about her that you wind up going with it.

Britt-Marie ends up accepting a temp position at a rec center in the small, run down town of Borg that’s seen better days. The main trucking business left, leaving behind many business to close down and houses to go up for sale. All that's left are the regulars who frequent the local convenience store that sees plenty of bizarre action, and the soccer-loving inhabitants, including some stubborn but well-meaning kids who have ambitions of playing in the cup but desperately in need of a coach to lead them. These are the people who will change her life.

At the heart of the story is Britt-Marie’s eagerness to find herself again. She had gotten used to setting aside her dreams in order to help her loved ones fulfill theirs. As the days go by in Borg, she pinpoints the pivotal moments in her life that have led her here. What she ultimately wants is to matter. After years of being made to feel inadequate she simply wants to feel that someone actually cares about her, that someone notices whether she’s in a room or not. In this town, with people equally as quirky as she is, where their outlook on life is associated with the soccer team they root for, she’s challenged to step out of her comfort zone and accept that things aren’t always black or white, and that there’s a place for creativity and imagination. The results are surprising and hilarious.

Once again, Backman succeeds at making seemingly mundane things fascinating. In Britt-Marie, he’s created a character who despite her social awkwardness manages to not only charm a small town but also the reader. In Borg, he has created a community populated by the most intriguing of personalities. The story doesn't end the way I thought it would but I definitely like the direction. Britt-Marie is the heroine of her own life and I dare say that she's a late-blooming feminist. There’s a lot to be admired about her. In fact, as an ode to her, I even made sure to arrange my cutlery drawer to her approval - forks, knives, spoons - because I am civilized like that. I highly recommend this read!

~ Bel


Fredrik Backman is undertaking his first US Book Tour! Definitely check out his books and go see him if he's coming to a bookstore near you! The tour dates are available on his website or click this link:

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