I adore Fredrik Backman’s books. I discovered A Man Called Ove a few years ago, and I fell in love with Backman’s writing style and character development. Since then, I have read all of his novels. All I need to do is read his novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, and I will be done with all of his works!
I finished Britt-Marie Was Here this week and wow. Backman is a genius when it comes to writing about the human experience. His characters are flawed, but colorful and loveable. There is no such thing as a two-dimensional character. A misunderstood character will have qualities about them that you adore. Backman can also introduce a character briefly on one page, and that character will possess enough emotional depth that they leave a mark when they exit the scene. It’s just truly remarkable. His books have humor, suffering, pain, heartache, romance and humor. They are all masterpieces.
A little more about Britt-Marie Was Here:
Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention. But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes.
When Britt-Marie walks out on her cheating husband and has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg—of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it—she finds work as the caretaker of a soon-to-be demolished recreation center. The fastidious Britt-Marie soon finds herself being drawn into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, layabouts. Most alarming of all, she’s given the impossible task of leading the supremely untalented children’s soccer team to victory. In this small town of misfits, can Britt-Marie find a place where she truly belongs?
Readers first meet Britt-Marie in Backman’s My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. She’s not exactly a likable character…but just you wait. At the end of the book, Britt-Marie has left Kent, her cheating husband, and Britt-Marie Was Here picks up where we left off.
Backman is wonderful at creating main characters that are prickly and annoying, but you eventually grow to absolutely adore them – this is Britt-Marie. Britt-Marie certainly has her quirks. She’s socially awkward and very set in her ways, but a lot like Ove in A Man Called Ove, you learn her backstory and you laugh out loud at their mannerisms and interactions with other folks. You wish you knew them in real life.
Backman is also incredible at creating communities. Borg is a small, washed-out town, but the people who live in the town are tight knit and there for one another. Like the Beartown series, the town is deeply connected to a sport. Britt-Marie finds herself working at a soon-to-be-closed recreational center and then the coach for the soccer team, a sport she knows nothing about. Soccer is what brings the town together, and though the kids aren’t very good and practice on a crappy pitch, the entire town comes to watch them play in the Cup. It is so heartwarming and Backman excels on capturing these moments. Though the town is a mess and its people are “seedy,” they are well-rounded and you grow to like them and defend them.
As I mentioned, Backman has such a talent for writing about life in its most fragile and powerful moments. Here’s an absurdly long excerpt that made me cry:
At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks him or herself are really just about one thing: how should you live your life?
If a human being closes her eyes hard enough and for long enough, she can remember pretty well everything that has made her happy. The fragrance of her mother’s skin at the age of five and how they fled giggling into a porch to get out of a sudden downpour. The cold tip of her father’s nose against her cheek. The consolation of the rough paw of a soft toy that she has refused to let them wash. The sound of waves stealing in over rocks during their last seaside holiday. Applause in a theater. Her sister’s hair, afterwards, carelessly waving in the breeze as they’re walking down the street.
And apart from that? When has she been happy? A few moments. The jangling of keys in the door. The beating of Kent’s heart against the palm of her hands while he lay sleeping. Children’s laughter. The feel of the wind on her balcony. Fragrant tulips. True love.
The first kiss.
A few moments. A human being, any human being at all, has so perishingly few chances to stay right there, to let go of time and fall into the moment. And to love someone without measure. Explode with passion (261).
My favorite part of Britt-Marie Was Here was the ending, because it was just about her and the mark she left on the town. It wasn’t about her marriage with Kent, or any new relationships she formed along the way; it was about her journey and the next steps she took for her own healing and well-being. In the end, she chose herself, and that was beautiful.
Have you read this one? If you’re a Fredrik Backman fan, what book is your favorite?
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