Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
|Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Britt Marie is cantankerous, annoying and yet the sort of person you remember with a tear in your eye and heartfelt warmth in your soul. An author who specialises in the unforgettable outdoes himself and in the process overshoots our rating system.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: July 2016|
|ISBN: 978- 1473617209|
Brett-Marie has never met a kitchen she doesn't want to clean. In fact, permanently armed with bicarbonate of soda and window cleaner, she's always ready to clean anything. Her husband Kent is an entrepreneur, you know, with excellent taste and expensive clothes. Yet here she is, in Borg, a rundown small town, in search of her first job for 40 years. Life takes some odd turns sometimes.
Swedish blogger, columnist and author Fredrik Backman specialises in wonderful, quirky, unforgettable people. First there was Ove, then Elsa's Gran and now, Britt-Marie, the most memorable of them all.
We come across Britt-Marie for the first time as she becomes a total headache for the local job centre. We find it highly amusing, but we don’t have to deal with her. At this point Fredrik shows us what the world sees: an odd, cantankerous, OCD woman who refuses to take no for an answer and even refuses to absorb the simplest, logical explanations. She doesn’t even seem to consider other's viewpoints (or lives) and just ploughs on towards her own objectives.
Not the sort of person we'd like to spend almost 300 pages with, we'd think? That makes us very, very wrong. In fact this is an amazing story that I didn't want to end and this is definitely not a book I'd lend to anyone just in case it never came back.
Fredrik's ace card is played when he gradually reveals the real Brett-Marie via subtly and cleverly spaced insights and the lady's own thoughts. Then we see what everyone else is missing. There are reasons for every single quirk and chink in Brett-Marie's armoury. Some will come to us slowly, signposted cleverly with little clues along the way; others hit us with the force of an emotion-drenched speeding locomotive.
I'm not going to give anything away as Fredrik paces his revelations with much more skill than I could ever emulate. However, talking of emotion-drenched, I'll just say he's a master at seamlessly manipulating our feelings. I laughed and bawled my eyes out alternately and, sometimes, simultaneously. For instance, I've never seen a rat infestation treated so poignantly (even rat-phobes have no need to fear, it's done so well).
This is an author who understands people and watches society closely. He uses the juxtaposition of a sheltered, middle class woman and a sink estate with its young people's football team to entertain but also to challenge our perceptions. By creating characters like Sven (the sometimes shy local policeman), Somebody (the well-connected owner of the local convenience store), Pirate, Sami and the rest of the football team as well as cleaning fixated Brett-Marie, he shows us humanity in all senses of the word. As we read on, the 'obstructively difficult' or 'louts', become understandably complex and people fighting for a chance, but not in a mushy, sentimental sense. This is endorsed by the way the author avoids a Hollywood ending – this is life, not a fairy tale.
In the end 5*s are all I can offer but I feel that this is a novel that deserves many, many more.
(Thank you so much to the good folk at Sceptre for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you haven't read them yet, do please try A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises. If you enjoy a quirky ensemble, we also highly recommend A Conspiracy Of Friends by Alexander McCall Smith.
You can read more book reviews or buy Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.