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Britt-Marie Was Here


Britt-Marie Was Here

We first meet Britt-Marie in the unemployment office. Five minutes into her conversation with “the girl” (who remains nameless throughout the book but is still a sort of confidante), she has proven to be socially inept. The girl’s haircut is so short that “it is courageous when you have such a large forehead,” while her business acumen is acknowledging that the financial crisis is “a little outside your field of competence.” In Fredrik Backman’s third novel, BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE, the heroine must find herself and who she has been for the past 40 years. But first she must find a job.

Borg, a community built along a road, is almost closed down. The recreation center and the pizzeria have not been closed down, but that’s only because they haven’t had time to do it yet. Britt-Marie has arrived there to become a caretaker in the recreation center for three weeks in January. With the extraordinarily poor pay, the location and the ephemeral time frame, it’s easy to see why Britt-Marie had no competition. But she has a job nonetheless.

"BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE is funny and true. We may not know a Borg or anyone like its huge-hearted inhabitants, but we should."

Borg has little to offer, but then again, neither does Britt-Marie. Her husband has left her for a younger woman, and after she has cleaned their apartment thoroughly and washed his shirt (twice) to rid it of the pizza and perfume smells, she leaves. The small circle of whiteness on the ring finger where her wedding band belongs hurts sometimes. And some days she would love nothing more than to be home again, ironing Kent’s shirts, waiting for him late at night and finding a coaster for his vodka glass.

But she stays. Britt-Marie has always cleaned, and she continues to clean. She sprinkles baking soda on sheets, mattresses, the soil in flower pots and dirty laundry. She reorganizes drawers, forks, knives and spoons. “We’re not animals, are we?” she murmurs when she finds cutlery all akimbo in dirty containers atop kitchen counters. She sprays Faxin on mirrors, tabletops, picture frames and windows. She sweeps and scrubs floors, and then disinfects them. Children who come to the recreation center have their shirts and soccer uniforms washed, dried and folded.

While we wait for Britt-Marie’s realization that she can do more than clean and wait, soccer makes a stunning appearance. It also stuns Britt-Marie (the first muddy ball crashes into her head and knocks her out), and she becomes the leader of Borg’s unbearably awful children’s team. Without asking or making it seem like it’s even happening, Britt-Marie enlists advice and help coalescing a misfit team and a misfit town.

BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE is funny and true. We may not know a Borg or anyone like its huge-hearted inhabitants, but we should. Fredrik Backman sees imagination, wonder and love in a 63-year-old woman whose life was running its course, living in a dog-eat-dog world, when she realizes something. Almost all the questions a person asks himself or herself are about one thing: How should you live your life? Britt-Marie’s answer is very satisfying.

Audiobook available, read by Joan Walker

Reviewed by Jane Krebs on May 27, 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here
by Fredrik Backman

  • Publication Date: February 7, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • ISBN-10: 1501142542
  • ISBN-13: 9781501142543