If you’ve ever watched Merphy Napier on YouTube, you’ll know that she’s a fan of the author Fredrik Backman. If you’ve never watched her channel and you love to read (why are you reading a book review if you didn’t like to read), then I recommend you take a couple of minutes to watch one of her videos. The thing that I like about her channel is that she suggests authors and books that ultimately end up among my favorites.
That’s why I took a chance to read Britt-Marie was Here by Backman. Merphy said Backman was a genius. So, I when the title came across my path on the Libby app as an audiobook, I borrowed it using my library card (the greatest thing ever invented, by the way), and started listening.
Expertly read by Joan Walker, Britt-Marie was Here is about the title character, Britt-Marie, who is an elderly lady that cannot stand disorder. There’s an amusing part in the novel where Britt-Marie reasons that one of the side characters can’t be bad because that person organizes their cutlery drawer correctly.
Britt-Marie discovers that her husband Kent, an entrepreneur, has cheated on her with another woman decides to leave him. She ends up taking a job as the temporary caretaker for a soon-to-be demolished recreation center of the dying town called Borg. The residents of Borg and Britt-Marie are like oil and water at first, but as they get to know each other, they develop life-changing relationships.
This being the first book by Backman that I’ve ever read, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into. And I hated it… at first. The character of Britt-Marie was so grating on my nerves that I almost returned the audiobook. Right before I did that though, I realized that the reason why I was angry at Britt-Marie was that Backman wrote her to be that way. Just like the very eccentric citizens of Borg, as time went on, I was coming to love Britt-Marie despite all of her quirks and her almost OCD like tendencies toward lists.
It reminded me of the first few seasons of the American version of The Office. Remember in Season One where everyone hated Michael? How could you not? He said things all the time that were horribly inappropriate, but not because he meant to cause injury. He just didn’t understand the implications of him saying those things. Then you get to the Halloween episode where Michael goes home defeated and alone. Those children come to his door, and he talks to the children about their costumes and then gives them all that candy. That was the turning point for me in the case of Michael Scott.
The same thing happened in Britt-Marie was Here. There was a turning point where I stopped hating Britt-Marie and actually started liking the character.
That’s one of the things that I appreciated about Backman’s writing. Every character felt lifelike. They each had their own quirks and personality traits that made them endearing to me. There were a few times where I was actually sad about what was happening. And I thought I’d hate Kent, the Entrepreneur when he showed back up again. That shouldn’t really be spoiling anything by the way. You have to know that he’s going to make an appearance at some point in the novel. He’s what started this whole story anyway. And at first, I hated him. However, Backman writes the character in such a way that there are moments where you are made to like him.
I won’t really talk about the ending because saying anything might jeopardize it. What I might say is that I was surprised and satisfied by it. I wasn’t exactly happy by how Backman wrapped up everything, but I thought that it fit the character arc that Britt-Marie followed.
There’s an interesting sub theme that Backman explores that is relevant these days. That theme is of being part of a community. Borg is a dying town, and the only people that are living there are those that can’t afford to leave and those that are loyal to the town. For Britt-Marie, she’s never really been part of a community. She’s spent most of her life taking care of Kent and his children, but even then, she never felt like one of the family. She talks about her stepchildren always referring to her as “the other woman.” When she does join the community by becoming the coach of youth football (soccer over in the states) it creates a chain reaction of the community coming together.
Overall, I loved this story. I thought that the characters were expertly written, the storyline was solid, and the ending was satisfying. For my first outing with Fredrik Backman, I was quite pleased. I highly recommend this book. I’ll definitely be reading more of Backman in the near future.
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