Last year a book called My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises was doing the rounds. I loved the title but – for reasons I now do not recall – didn’t get around to reading that book.
It wasn’t until after I finished Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman that I discovered the Swedish blogger and columnist also authored ‘My Grandmother… etc’ and his latest had a quirky and beguiling warmth that makes me realise I would have loved to read about the apologising grandmother.
Britt-Marie Was Here
by Fredrik Backman
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
on April 26th 2016
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Literary Fiction
For as long as anyone can remember, Britt-Marie has been an acquired taste. It's not that she's judgemental, or fussy, or difficult - she just expects things to be done in a certain way. A cutlery drawer should be arranged in the right order, for example (knives, forks, then spoons).
We're not animals, are we?
But behind the passive-aggressive, socially awkward, absurdly pedantic busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams and a warmer heart than anyone around her realizes.
So when Britt-Marie finds herself unemployed, separated from her husband of 20 years, left to fend for herself in the miserable provincial backwater that is Borg - of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it - and somehow tasked with running the local football team, she is a little unprepared. But she will learn that life may have more to offer her that she's ever realised, and love might be found in the most unexpected of places.
Britt-Marie takes a bit of getting used to. Backman hits the ground running and we – along with ‘the girl’ at the employment agency – are hit with the full force of Britt-Marie’s… ummm… somewhat obsessive personality.
We quickly learn that Britt-Marie is not judgemental. Nope. No sirree… not at all. And it’s something she prides herself on.
‘Milk and sugar?’ the girl asks, pouring some coffee into a plastic mug.
Britt-Marie doesn’t judge anyone. Far from it. But who would behave like that? A plastic mug! Are we at war? She’d like to say just that to the girl, but because Kent is always urging Britt-Marie to ‘be more socially aware’ she just smiles as diplomatically as she can and waits to be offered a coaster. p 9
Although she talks about her marriage and husband in current tense we soon learn that she and her husband Kent (whose name she mentions ad nauseum) are separated.
Her former husband wasn’t oblivious to her quirks however and – through Britt-Marie’s recounts – we learn he (understandably) became less tolerant to these as time went on.
She’s a force of nature and through sheer badgering inexplicably ends up employed temporarily at a recreation centre in Borg – a community just waiting for the death knell. Everyone who can has left town and the Council’s focussing its attention on larger centres nearby, letting Borg and its community and services die a slow death.
In Borg Britt-Marie gets more than she bargained for. And – of course – the same can be said for Borg. No one actually seems to use the recreation centre but Britt-Marie is kept busy with its upkeep and cleaning, inadvertently befriending the neighbouring pizzeria owner – only known to we readers as Somebody. (As an aside, references to ‘Somebody’ could be occasionally confusing.)
Britt-Marie’s eccentricities don’t go unnoticed by the people of Borg but rather than ignore or make fun of her, they begrudgingly accept the sixty-three year old.
Before long she becomes intertwined with a range of Borg’s characters and her own journey back from the brink mirrors that of the
football soccer-mad town which is given a second chance.
Backman does a wonderful job with Britt-Marie. The book’s told through her eyes, but in third person. (Mostly.)
Britt-Marie would obviously never consider the woman to be ‘fat,’ because Britt-Marie is absolutely not a person who classifies people like that, but it does strike her how nice it must be for the woman to go through life so untroubled by her cholesterol levels. p 53
It’s not long before Backman shares the source of Britt-Marie’s obsessiveness… her need to do what she can to make things better – something she attempted as a child.
This book is beautifully written although I was a little thrown in the beginning with a lot of short staccato type sentences.
It occasionally it felt as if someone was narrating the book and I was reminded of a quirky TV show called Pushing Daisies which featured a jocular voice-over person.
Somebody mutters and tries to close the door. But, as we already said, Britt-Marie is enthusiastic, and will not be deterred. p 92
Despite the book’s and Britt-Marie’s idiosyncrasies there’s a heavier side to this tale which touches on love, family, relationships and the assumptions we make. Backman beautifully shines a light on the microcosm that is Borg, a community that’s fractured but resplendent with the hope of its residents.
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.
I received a copy of this book via the publisher for review purposes.