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.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman was published in 2015 and after reading and loving A Man Called Ove recently I just had to get this one from the library too. I gave Backman’s first book five stars on Goodreads – quite rare for me. I’ll be giving this one four I think because it was just a wee bit too crazy and fantastical, especially at the beginning – or maybe I just got used to it.

I did think that it was very different from A Man Called Ove but by the time I reached the end I realised that Backman was again writing a book which brought a lot of very disparate human beings together in one small neighbourhood.

Elsa is a seven year old whose parents are divorced but they both have different partners now and her mother is expecting Halfie, her half sibling. It’s a time of stress for Elsa as she’s sure that she is going to take second place to Halfie and to make matters worse she is a bit of an outcast at school, she just doesn’t fit in and nobody likes her. She’s bullied, but she isn’t exactly a shrinking violet herself. In fact she has learned quite a lot from her weird and frankly outrageously rude Granny. But mind you, if you can’t be outrageous when you’re 77 – when can you be?

The one bright spot in Elsa’s life is her eccentric granny. Granny is a storyteller and she has kept Elsa entertained for years with her tales, in fact they have their own secret language together and when life gets too much for Elsa she takes herself off to the lands of Granny’s tales.

Granny and Elsa have a common adversary, Elsa’s Mum. Mum has a high-powered job at the local hospital and she spends very little time with Elsa, something which Granny doesn’t like. But as Mum says – Granny was never there for her either when she was growing up as Granny was a doctor who had chosen to go to war zones to help other people’s children.

They live in the same apartment block which houses a cast of eccentric characters, some of whom seem really awful in the beginning, but Granny has worked her magic and despite this being at times a very sad story, it has a happy ending, which is good because I was in need of a happy ending!

One other thing, this book was translated from Swedish by Henning Koch and he made a great job of it.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I must admit that I’m one of those thrawn (pig-headed) people who don’t like to follow the crowd and read something just because everyone else has their nose in it – that GREY book would never darken my home. So when I noticed that the front of A Man Called Ove has written at the top of it – THE MILLION-COPY BEST SELLER – it put me off reading it. Peggy Ann had loved it which is why I requested it from the library so I thanked Sandra in the library and gathered it up wondering if I had wasted her time in getting it for me. The ‘WARM, FUNNY… UNBEARABLY MOVING’ from The Daily Mail!!! was a right off put-er too.

But heigh-ho Peggy was right, I loved this one too and I read it in two sittings, so as it has 294 pages I think it’s safe to say that I found it to be a real page turner.

Ove has recently been made redundant at the age of 59. He has lived in the same house for almost four decades and he’s one of those men who is a stickler for the rules. If a sign says no parking then he is determined that nobody will park in that area. He takes it upon himself to police the area he lives in, checking everywhere for signs of burglary. He had been head of the residents association until he was ousted in what he calls a coup d’etat. So he’s definitely a paid up member of the awkward squad and more than a wee bit odd, but at the bottom of everything he’s a man of principle with a very strong moral compass, and he thinks that if everyone was like him then things would be fine. He also has a heart of gold in that ageing body of his.

Close to the beginning of the book Ove decides that he now has no reason to keep on living, fortunately he isn’t very successful at trying to do away with himself which is just as well as he ends up being the mainstay of his community.

Despite being really tragic in parts this is also a fun read. Ove is a very grumpy and rude older man. (I have to be careful here as he’s actually younger than Jack!) and like many older people Ove thinks that modern life is rubbish and the younger generation know nothing, and it’s fair to say that the younger people have a similar attitude to the oldies. This was a great reading kick-off to 2016 and I gave it five stars on Goodreads, quite rare for me.