Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrick Backman
My excitement for the books of Fredrik Backman borders on extreme. If there is anyone out there who has not read A Man Called Ove raise your hand. No, instead go find a copy and read it immediately. You will be hooked and then you will devour My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. You have to because it’s even better. So imagine my reaction to seeing he has a new book coming out in early May titled Britt-Marie Was Here. I was sent a copy by the publisher, Simon and Schuster. I had a hard time with this one. I put it on the desk for a couple of weeks to just look at because I knew if I sat down with it I wouldn’t get up again until it was finished. And I didn’t want it to be finished so I didn’t read it right away. It needed to be savored.
Fredrick Backman gets old people. He gets how they feel, how they think, how they react, how they live, their little eccentricities. I wondered if that was because HE is old. I looked him up online and I see he isn’t old. He’s actually quite young. So, then, how does he do it? Especially Britt-Marie. Ove was curmudgeonly. Britt-Marie was 63 years old and lost.
Britt-Marie gave her entire life to being good. She never wanted to make waves, she always tried to be what she thought someone else wanted her to be so they would be pleased with her. Very early on she decided that keeping life around her clean and tidy would be her venue to appreciation. If she kept things neat and tidy then her life would be neat and tidy, too, right?
But Britt-Marie was wrong. A box of baking soda in one hand and a bottle of Faxin in the other didn’t make anyone around her happy. It made her a bit compulsive but, it turns out, no one noticed, especially her husband. Britt-Marie devoted every minute of her life to keeping up appearances, because if she didn’t, well then, what would people think?
When the story opens Britt-Marie is at an unemployment office looking for a job. She’s left her cheating husband, tired of washing his shirts that smell of someone else’s perfume. She needs this job, she says, because she read about a woman who died in her apartment and no one noticed until the smell drove the neighbors to call the authorities. Britt-Marie needs a job so that someone will notice if she isn’t there. She wants people to know she was here. And therein lies the magic of this story.
Britt-Marie is given a job in a very small forgotten town where she entwines her life with its cast of misfits, none of which fit her idea of “proper.” But because she is Britt-Marie, and has expectations of behavior and decorum, she finds her life transformed. And in the end, people will know Britt-Marie was here.
Britt-Marie Was Here is the best of the best. And coming from me, that’s saying a lot.