I received this book for free from Atria Books, Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
Published by Simon and Schuster on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Humorous, General
Format: Print ARC
Source: Atria Books, Goodreads First Reads
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A sweet and heartwarming story about a 63-year-old woman who goes through a major life change and reluctantly stumbles into a journey of self-discovery. Britt-Marie is a character from My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, a book I have not read. The two books are independent stories and don’t need to be read in conjunction with each other.
A year turned into several years, and several years turned into all the years. One morning you wake up with more life behind you than in front of you, not being able to understand how it’s happened.
Britt-Marie is set in her ways, but she is forced into uncomfortable new circumstances after leaving her philandering husband. After decades of being a homemaker and being taken advantage of by her husband, she finds temporary employment and independence in Borg, a neglected community hit hard by the financial crisis. Britt-Marie is uptight and inflexible after years of emotional neglect, but she may have found the place she belongs in this town full of outsiders!
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?
“It’s easier to stay optimistic if you never have to clear up the mess afterwards.” I have a soft spot for stories about grumpy creatures of habit who are ripped from their comfort zones. When we meet Britt-Marie, she is being extremely rude to a woman at the employment office. She is a stickler for her lists and is obsessive about having an organized cutlery drawer. She is hard to like at first, but it is easy to understand how her eccentricities developed when her family background and the sad facts of her marriage are revealed. Her desire to be seen and concerns about being forgotten are especially affecting.
It’s not that Britt-Marie chose not to have expectations, she just woke up one morning and realized they were past their sell-by date.
Britt-Marie isn’t the only peculiar person in this book. She ends up in Borg, a town full of interesting characters. Borg is not Britt-Marie’s ideal environment; it is run-down and no one has any interesting in cleaning it up. The people have lost all hope after the financial crisis left most of them without jobs and everyone else has given up on them too. Britt-Marie accidentally befriends this ragtag band of misfits and gives them something to strive for. Likewise, the people of Borg help Britt-Marie relax a little and learn to open herself up to laughter and friendship. The citizens of Borg and Britt-Marie are both jolted out of complacency and learn that it is never too late to live a fulfilling life.
“Things have changed. … They no longer want to go, they want to see what happens next. It’s been awhile since anyone in Borg wanted to know what happens next.”
As a warning for anyone like me that finds their eyes glazing over at the mere mention of sports, a youth soccer team plays a central part in this book. I did think the idea of sizing up a person by their team preference funny. (Note: I never finished the Harry Potter series because I got stuck on the first few chapters of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. That’s right! I can’t even handle the potential for fantasy sports! )
All marriages have their bad sides, because people have weaknesses. If you live with another human being you learn to handle these weaknesses in a variety of ways. For instance, you might take the view that weaknesses are a bit like heavy pieces of furniture, and based on this you must learn to clean around them. To maintain the illusion.
Of course the dust is building up unseen, but you learn to repress this for as long as it goes unnoticed by guests. And then one day someone moves a piece of furniture without your say-so, and everything comes into plain view. Dirt and scratch marks. Permanent damage to the parquet floor. By then it’s too late.
While it was an enjoyable book, there are a few things that made the story feel like it was progressing extra slowly:
1) Formulaic? – I haven’t finished A Man Called Ove, because halfway through I decided to switch from audiobook to print. The part I did listen to really struck an emotional chord with me. Because of my previous, albeit incomplete, experience with Ove, I felt like I’d read much of Britt-Marie before: a miserable grump evolves into a lovable grump, a lonely person loses finds a family of choice after losing a spouse, and gradual bonding with an animal. It is just too easy to compare the two.
2) Repetition – This is a character-driven story about a woman is likes to clean and organize. This means there is a lot of detail and repetition about her domestic activities. Also, certain phrases and themes are repeated ad nauseum. Sometimes it is nice to just read a story and have it all laid out for you, but geez! I get it!
3) Naming Conventions – One of the characters is referred to as ‘Somebody’ and it threw me off every single time.
“If you can be heard then you exist.”
The publisher describes Britt-Marie as “hard to like, but easy to love,” which is the perfect way to describe her. There is a big heart hiding underneath her prim and proper exterior! If you are looking for a pleasant story that will give you some faith in humanity, this is a solid choice! If you like books like The Rosie Project, you will probably enjoy Fredrik Backman’s quirky characters and heartwarming tales.
“She slept the unreflective sleep of a child, and she woke up with great spirits. Another day. This alone should immediately have made her suspicious, because little good can come of waking up all enthusiastic like that.” Agreed, Britt-Marie!