I loved author Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, so when I had the opportunity to read the latest translated book (Backman is Swedish and writes in his native tongue), I jumped at the chance. So often, when a writer strikes gold early on, subsequent books don’t live up to the expectation. I’m delighted to report that this is not the case with Backman and Britt-Marie Was Here.
Britt-Marie is a difficult, stodgy, anal-retentive, passive-aggressive woman. She likes routine, and she likes order. But even Britt-Marie can only take so much. Now in her 60’s, Britt-Marie packs up her belongings and leaves her 40-year, loveless marriage to Kent. She goes to the employment office but the only job she can possibly get is in the tiny village of Borg. Borg is an economically depressed little burg and its villagers seem to be just as lost as the local economy. All except the children, who fervently practice their soccer on a home-made soccer pitch. The kids have dreams of competing in a soccer tournament against the town kids (12 miles away), but they need an adult coach.
It becomes clear, early on, that Borg needs Britt-Marie almost as much as Britt-Marie needs Borg, and that both will be tremendously changed by book’s end.
Even though the ending seems pretty clear, it is the journey that Backman takes us through that really captures the reader. It is with the slow, day-to-day events that Backman sucks us in, helping us to recognize just who Britt-Marie is (perhaps to find a little Britt-Marie in ourselves) and to see beyond the surface of those in the village. All the characters reveal personalities and become ‘real’ to us with an unexpected depth about them. And because the people are so real, Borg becomes a living, breathing village to us and we care about what happens inside its borders.
Britt-Marie doesn’t appear to be the type of person who so drastically changes her life at her age, but the fact that she made this initial move shows just how much she is capable of, under the right circumstances. And because of this, we see a lot of hope in Britt-Marie throughout the book. And this resolve of Britt-Marie’s wears off on Borg … not always to positive results.
This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year and because it’s not tied to a specific genre it should be enjoyed by just about anyone.
Looking for a good book? Author Fredrik Backman has a stunning hit with his character-driven novel Britt-Marie Was Here. This is one you should read.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Britt-Marie Was Here
author: Fredrik Backman
translator: Henning Koch
publisher: Atria Books
hardcover, 336 pages