I became an instant fan of Swedish author Fredrick Backman when I read A Man Called Ove, so I couldn’t wait to read Britt-Marie Was Here. If Ove was a curmudgeon then Britt-Marie is persnickety. This is another lovely story about breaking out of your comfort zone or, in this case, being kicked out of your comfort zone to be more exact. I loved it and I think you will too. Let’s see…
Britt-Marie has always been one of those people with a place for everything and everything in its place…at least that’s probably the kind way to describe it. Essentially, she must have complete control over everything in her life, and I do mean everything down to the tiniest detail. And everyone must do everything exactly the way Britt-Marie believes it should be done, or rather must be done because Britt-Marie is rather given to thinking in terms of absolutes. She tends to see any deviation from her ordered existence as something akin to a sin and the sinner will be made to pay dearly.
She not only orders her own life and her husband’s just so, she is quite willing to be helpful in ordering everyone else’s lives too. After all, she knows how it’s supposed to be done and they don’t apparently. She does not see this as judging others but more as enlightening them in how to think correctly. She can’t imagine why people aren’t thrilled to get this sage advice or why some of them tend to see her wise suggestions as criticisms. Why wouldn’t they want to do things right if someone took the time to counsel them on how to do that? Why would they continue to insist on doing things wrong when she has enlightened them? She honestly doesn’t understand how that could happen.
And then something happens to completely unhinge Britt-Marie’s ordered life. She finally realizes that her husband is having an affair. She has completely ordered his life in exactly the way he wants it to be so he doesn’t have to lift a finger to do anything – and he’s having an affair. As that realization sinks in, Britt-Marie realizes she has dedicated her entire life to someone who has completely taken her and what she does for him for granted. And that is when Britt-Marie wakes up to what her life has become.
The only problem is that she doesn’t know how to be any other way at this point, and has no skills beyond managing her husband’s life. When she meets with the less than interested employment counselor, it quickly becomes apparent that she has no skills the outside world is looking for. As she does with everyone, she begins to try to organize the counselor’s life/desk/personal appearance/etc. And you can imagine how well that goes over…
In a desperate attempt to get Britt-Marie off her hands and out of her office, the counselor sends her off to the tiny economically depressed cross-roads town of Borg. There Britt-Marie is to be the temporary caretaker for the local recreation center…a center scheduled to be demolished. Talk about a mess. The place is a dirty disaster but at least Britt-Marie is well equipped to clean and organize it. Of course, once that’s done she has no clue what to do next.
Being Britt-Marie, however, she’s soon meddling in her neighbors’ lives and trying to teach them how to do what they do the “right” way. What she hasn’t bargained for are the children. Britt-Marie has never had children and didn’t realize how messy they are. They actually track mud onto her freshly scrubbed recreation center floor and plop down on the sofa in their muddy soccer uniforms, which is appalling. And someone has suggested she should be training the soccer team – she doesn’t know anything about soccer, except that it’s horribly messy.
Still she can’t help being curious about these children and is sure she can help them mend their messy ways so they can become good citizens. And that is when Britt-Marie begins to become hooked on Borg. There is just so much to fix there and she is extremely good at fixing things. Maybe there is a place for her in the world outside of her home after all. And the people of Borg seem to think she actually knows what she’s doing. She doesn’t but she intends to give it all she’s got. After all, she may be the only hope this little disaster of a town has.
Britt-Marie is one of those persnickety people I always want to tell to get a life…and that’s precisely what the universe seems to be trying valiantly to arrange for her in this novel, no matter how resistant she is to that concept. (BTW: If she sounds familiar, she was a secondary character in Mr. Backman’s second novel.) Underneath all of the persnicketiness, Britt-Marie is riddled with self-doubt and self-worth issues…and her husband has reinforced those from Day 1 of their relationship by making her believe she can’t do anything right. I applauded her for standing up for herself and getting out of her abusive relationship, although I despaired that she might not make it when she did get out. I haven’t told you anything about the quirky townspeople of Borg because I want you to discover these delightful and caring folks for yourself.
In many ways, Britt-Marie Was Here is a belated coming-of-age tale – not everyone figures out this stuff on a teen/young adult timeline. Some people are late bloomers, like Britt-Marie. Fredrick Backman has written another excellent novel, one that I dearly loved. Britt-Marie grew on me the more I read and I was her biggest fan by the end, literally cheering out loud at one point. This is women’s fiction at its best, and it just happens to be written by a man. It’s filled with as much joy and laughter as it is heartache, and it addresses issues small towns everywhere face in the 21st century. Need I tell you that I’m recommending Britt-Marie Was Here?
Can’t wait to read it? Britt-Marie Was Here is available in almost all formats from your favorite online bookseller. Just click the link below and you can have it to read immediately!
I’d love to get your comments on Britt-Marie Was Here, Fredrick Backman and/or his other work, and/or this review!
Click here to read our review of the bestseller, A Man Called Ove.