Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

 Britt-Marie Was Here cover

Britt-Marie by Fredrik Backman is a great read. It’s the third book I’ve read by Backman, a Swedish author and they’re right up my street, perfect light entertainment. Having said that the books have a lot to say about society and people who don’t quite fit into the ‘normal’ category. Backman always has a procession of quirky characters, the sort of people who would drive you nuts but you end up loving.

I believe Britt-Marie appeared first in Backman’s second book – My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry – in which she was married to Kent, a rather obnoxious ‘entrepreneur’ who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. In Britt-Marie Was Here she is looking for a job at the age of 63, despite not having worked outside the home for 40 years. She has left Kent as she couldn’t keep ignoring the fact that she knew he had another woman on the side. As she has problems communicating with people and understanding life in general, her visit to the unemployment office is a bit of a nightmare for her and the woman trying to help her find a job.

Miraculously a job does turn up, but it’s in a town called Borg, way out in the sticks, it’s a very run down area. The financial crisis has hit the town badly and there is almost nothing still open in the place. But the recreation centre is hanging on and Britt-Marie gets the job of caretaker and she gets involved with the local kids and their football team.

Britt-Marie’s life has collapsed around her and her obsessive cleaning is the only thing that she can hold on to. Suffice to say that she must be buying bicarbonate of soda by the catering barrel load. Despite her love of cleanliness she ends up feeding a rat because she realises that they both have potentially the same problem. Since ending up on her own she fears that if she dies she’ll lie for ages before anyone realises, it would only be the neighbours noticing a smell that would alert them to her death. The same thing happens to rats when they die inside a wall or under floorboards.

Despite her social problems, or maybe because of them, Britt-Marie becomes the champion of the football playing youngsters and she learns how important it is in life to support the correct football team. It says a lot about your character.

I don’t think this can be called a feel-good book because there is plenty of sadness in it, but it is about not giving up hope and building a community in difficult circumstances. A great read.

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