Literature & Fiction

Britt-Marie IS here . . .

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman (Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster); released 3 May 2016; list price:  $26.00 (USD) hardbound edition, $12.99 Kindle edition — and worth the price.
by Fredrik Backman/Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. List $26.00 (USD)
by Fredrik Backman/Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. List $26.00 (USD)

Britt-Marie was here, and here will never be the same.

Britt-Marie won’t.  I won’t.  Nor will anyone who takes the time to make her acquaintance, to open their hearts and minds to Britt-Marie and all she can show them about life, about love, about those around them, even about their own selves.

Britt-Marie is, on the surface, an intensely irritating woman with an inflexible approach to everyone and everything . . . but anyone with any sense knows not to judge a book by its cover. It would be a mistake to judge Britt-Marie – who is not the sort to judge others – by first impressions.

It is, in fact, in those first impressions that Backman first shows us how much more there is to Britt-Marie.  Because others do not respond quite as one expects to Britt-Marie, a 63-year-old woman who is painfully proper.  Her days start at 6 a.m. because only lunatics wake up later.  She serves supper promptly at 6 p.m., because civilized people have their dinner at six.  After 40 years of marriage to an unfaithful husband, she has had enough.  She presents herself at the unemployment office, seeking a job because she wants someone to know she’s here.

But, after three decades of raising her husband’s children and seeing that their home is presentable, she doesn’t exactly have the skills employers want.  Especially not in a financial crisis.  Her husband, Kent, knows that the financial crisis is over.  He’s an entrepreneur, so he understands these kind of things, even if the girl at the unemployment office doesn’t nor the people of Borg, where Britt-Marie finds a temporary job.

Borg has nothing much, except a road that runs in two directions, kids who play soccer and a pizzeria.  Or so one might think.  But, page after page, paragraph after paragraph, Backman strips away the camouflage covering both Britt-Marie and Borg.  And a remarkable thing happens because Britt-Marie and Borg are actually much bigger inside than out.

Who and what you see inside may tell you more about yourself than about Britt-Marie or Borg, just as which soccer club you support will tell the people of Borg, and Britt-Marie, about you.  Soccer is important, you see, because soccer doesn’t ask to be loved.  And if you support a club that always promises to win but never does, you give more love than you get back.  Britt-Marie doesn’t know much about soccer, at least not before she comes to Borg, but she may know quite a lot about loving without getting much back.  About hoping, and going on loving, despite disappointments and promises that are never kept.  If you support a club that always wins, you expect to win and you may start believing that you deserve to win.  Britt-Marie knows better.  Passion for one particular club, though, sometimes gets in the way of love for soccer itself.  And perhaps that is something Britt-Marie didn’t know . . . until Borg.

Britt-Marie Was Here (click to read a sample) may be the best book I’ll read this year.  It has, in less than 24 hours, had a more profound impact on me than perhaps any wholly secular book I’ve ever read.  I seldom highlight passages, yet I read it with my highlighter in hand because there were so many sentences I want to retain and to remember.  It begs to be read by book clubs, because it begs to be discussed with other readers, to learn what they see in Britt-Marie and in Borg and what they see in themselves.

The only readers who may not like it are those who adamantly decline to read books with four-letter words.  Britt-Marie would understand – she knows quite well that there are certainly a good number of alternatives to four-letter words.  So do I.  I also acknowledge that Backman employs them not merely because they are in character with the characters who speak them but because they are essential to revealing Britt-Marie’s character.  She overlooks them.  I did.  Perhaps you shall, too?

From the publisher:  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, from the bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.

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 63, Britt-Marie has had enough. She finally walks out on her loveless 40-year marriage and finds a job in the only place she can: Borg, a small, derelict village 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.

Thus begins a beautiful and unlikely partnership. In her new role as reluctant mentor to these lost young boys and girls, Britt-Marie soon finds herself becoming increasingly vital to the community. And even more surprisingly, she is the object of romantic desire for a friendly and handsome local policeman named Sven. In this world of oddballs and misfits, can Britt-Marie finally find a place where she belongs?

Zany and full-of-heart, Britt-Marie Was Here is a novel about love and second chances, and about the unexpected friendships we make that teach us who we really are and the things we are capable of doing.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy compliments of Atria Books and Simon & Schuster, via NetGalley, in exchange for an independent and honest review.  Britt-Marie would expect nothing less.

May 2016 selection Library Reads selection