Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

By Ekta R. Garg

May 18, 2016

Genre: Women’s fiction

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A woman gathers her courage to leave her husband and moves to a new town so she can start a fresh life. Despite the idiosyncrasies of the town’s residents, the woman eventually gets to know them and finds a place among them. Swedish author Fredrik Backman offers readers an introspective of one of his former characters in the thoughtful novel Britt-Marie Was Here.

After forty years Britt-Marie knows she must make a change. She leaves her husband, Kent, and goes straight to the unemployment office for some direction on a job. Never mind that she hasn’t held a job in all the years she’s been married. Surely her experience and impeccable track record as a housewife should make her qualified for something.

Reality sets in when the unemployment office offers her the one position available for someone who hasn’t worked in decades: a temporary caretaker of a recreation center. Temporary because the rec center will close within a matter of weeks. It’s located in the small town of Borg, hard hit by the economic recession and on the verge of losing all hope.

Undeterred, Britt-Marie gathers all of her possessions, as well as a healthy dose of resolve, and goes to Borg where upon arrival her car promptly gives out on her. And she gets hit in the head with a soccer ball. Kicked by a child.

Her first impressions of Borg are less than stellar.

In the process of trying to get her car repaired and take care of the rec center, Britt-Marie finds out that the town’s residents harbor a plethora of idiosyncrasies. They don’t understand the concept of sitting down to dinner at precisely 6 p.m. or the importance of making lists only in pencil. A champion crossword puzzle solver, Britt-Marie knows how crucial it is to use only pencil for any and all handwritten notations.

More than anything else, she can’t comprehend the obsession everyone seems to have with soccer. Britt-Marie can’t stand the game. So when she accidentally becomes the coach of the ragtag youth soccer team—because clearly something like this can only happen by accident—she begins to realize that maybe coming Borg to assert her independence wasn’t quite the clear-cut idea she originally imagined. Despite all of her best intentions, however, the town has begun to mean something to her, and when the opportunity arises for Britt-Marie to return to her old life she must decide where she will go.

Author Fredrik Backman brings back a character from his last novel, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry in his latest offering of Britt-Marie Was Here. Here he takes the opportunity to delve into Britt-Marie’s life, completely flipping over any impressions readers might have had from the previous book. Britt-Marie gets the opportunity to share her point of view, and readers will find out just what drives her obsession with perfection.

Backman wins full marks once again for his prose, which simultaneously delights and endears his characters and locations to readers. Every paragraph creates an image or an emotion, a tall order to fill given the success he’s achieved with his previous books. Britt-Marie spends quite a bit of time in consideration, and readers sit alongside her as she tries to sort out exactly what she wants from herself and her life.

By her very nature, Britt-Marie doesn’t like to create a scene. She has a desperate need for people to know she exists, but she’s far from flamboyant. Because of this, readers may need to exercise just a little bit of patience as Britt-Marie mentally works through her challenges. The town and its residents will keep readers engaged all the way through the end, though, and the sheer pleasure Backman creates through his writing is reason enough to make it to the end of the book.

I highly recommend readers Bookmark Britt-Marie Was Here.