We all know someone like Britt-Marie, the main character in Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrick Backman, or at least an approximation of her. Cutlery must be stored in a certain and logical pattern: “Forks. Knives. Spoons. In that order.” Her routine of waking up at six o’clock every morning is fixed and unchangeable, until one day it suffers the slightest of alterations: her husband Kent has been having an affair with a much younger woman.
Faced with the unexpected, Britt-Marie does the only logical thing she can think of, and the one thing that is completely unexpected and out of character. She abandons her cheating husband, and at the ripe age of sixty-three, makes plans to turn over the proverbial new leaf, and start her life again in a new place.
After harassing and cajoling the girl at the employment agency in a manner that is basically non-aggressive but entirely Britt-Marie, she heads to the small town of Borg to take over as the caretaker of what turns to be an abandoned building, with only a rat for company.
Borg turns out to be all that Britt-Marie can handle; a small, nondescript place where the financial crisis has hit hard. The town hangs on to the only thing that still gives it’s inhabitants hope: their love for soccer, which happens to be the thing that Britt-Marie hates the most.
When Britt-Marie arrives, she meets a plethora of unique characters that succeed in completely puzzling her, including the owner of the local pizza parlor who is also in charge of the post office and additionally tinkers away at an auto repair shop. Surprisingly, it’s the bizarre and simply peculiar citizens of Borg who will provide her with the only bouts of friendship and sense of purpose that she’s had for a very long time.
In a show of irony, the youth soccer team begs Britt-Marie to become their new coach since they can’t find anyone else to take on the job. Putting aside her hatred for the game, she faces the challenge with unprecedented bravery, and in doing so her life changes forever. New and unlikely friendships will be forged, romantic attachments will be formed, and Britt-Marie will discover that perhaps hope and a new chance at life can be found in the most unlikely places.
Fredrick Backman’s Britt Marie Was Here is the clever portrayal of a woman who at first strikes us as exasperating and more than a tad obnoxious. However, as the novel progresses, Britt-Marie and her many mannerisms stir a wave of light humor but at the same time, of a surprising fragility. As we unearth why Britt-Marie behaves the way she does and how her strange idiosyncrasies were forged, we can’t help but feel a sort of quiet admiration for her. While some of her decisions regarding her personal life will perhaps make the reader judge her a bit harshly, her final stand makes for a surprising vindication.
This novel worms its way shyly into the reader’s heart, leaving the reader with a definite conviction that indeed Britt-Marie was here.
Note: Netgally provided the author of this review, an advanced reader’s copy courtesy of the publisher.