Saturday, May 7, 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
Atria Books: 5/3/16
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501142536

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman is a highly recommended novel about a set-in-her-ways and taken for granted unhappy woman who makes a change in her life.

Britt-Marie, 63, likes to keep a clean, orderly house. Her cutlery draw is always properly arranged. Baking soda is her go-to cleaning and housekeeping aid, along with the window cleaner called Faxin. Britt-Marie is outspoken, socially awkward, and straightforward. She knows she is called a "nag-bag" and doesn't particularly care. She has also left her husband of 40 years, Kent, after he has had a heart attack and smells of perfume and pizza. She recognized but choose to ignore his unfaithfulness for years, as long as his shirt was put right into the washer when he got home because it smelled of perfume and she doesn't use perfume.

Britt-Marie talks to the employment counselor and finds herself as the caretaker for the Recreational Center in the very small town of Borg. Borg has been hit hard by the financial crisis, even though Kent says it is over. Britt-Marie does her best to clean and meets some of the citizens still left in the town, which includes soccer-playing children, a visually challenged former soccer player, the owner of the only business still open in town, and the local police officer.

Backman does an excellent job developing the flawed character of Britt-Marie. Her thought processes and mannerisms are clearly captured and some of the inner turmoil she is dealing with and the mistreatment she has endured is revealed. In the end she is a very real woman who has been handling her circumstances by cleaning. At first she is not a lovable or even very likeable character. Her discovery of herself is very touching and I did find myself finding Britt-Marie more endearing, in her prickly out-spoken way.

I adored Backman's My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry. While I liked this novel very much, for me it wasn't quite as wonderful as My Grandmother, a novel where Britt-Marie first appeared as a character. It's not that I have anything in particular that I dislike; it's simply that for all of the things done right, there are a few drawbacks. It would help if you like soccer. I don't dislike soccer, but I'm neutral on the sport. The ending was one of the biggest drawbacks for me. It felt a wee bit contrived and too pat for me. Perhaps I'm too much of a cynic for this sweet book.

And it is a sweet book. It is charming and It is good feelings and hugs and chocolate all around, even for those who seem to be unlovable. It is how one person can make a difference. It encourages us to overlook a person's flaws and accept them as they are. You will feel Britt-Marie's pain and you will be sending her warm wishes and sending good thoughts in her direction. Even though there are parts that are heartbreaking, it is, at its core, an uplifting, hopeful book. 

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Atria Books for review purposes.

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