Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
Published May 2016 by Atria Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She begins her day at 6 a.m., because only lunatics wake up later than that. And she is not passive-aggressive. Not in the least. It's just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be.
But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination,bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes.
When Britt-Marie suddenly has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg—of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it—she is more than a little unprepared. Employed as the caretaker of a soon-to-be demolished recreation center, the fastidious Britt-Marie has to cope with muddy floors, unruly children, and a (literal) rat for a roommate. She finds herself being drawn into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, layabouts.
I've edited that summary. I don't know why they wanted to tell you so much about the book. Were they afraid you wouldn't be interested if you just read what I've left? Maybe. Let's face it, people who are, as her husband said of Britt-Marie, "socially incompetent" don't necessarily draw readers in. Unless you've read and enjoyed Backman's previous books. Or you can tell by that cover that this one is going to have some fluff and fun.
Backman's debut, A Man Called Ove, is one of my favorite books this year. In Britt-Marie Was Here Backman returns to the tale of a cantankerous older person who rubs people the wrong way until the right people come into her life, people who appreciate her for what she is and who bring out the softer side. Along the way, Backman helps readers to understand why his characters have become the way the people they've become. Britt-Marie Was Here is filled with humor and quirky characters; on its surface, it seems light. But there is an underlying darkness that balances things out.
I had a harder time buying into all of the happenings in Britt-Marie Was Here and it felt a bit like there was too much going on, making it harder to connect to some of the characters than I would have liked. But I had a mother-in-law who swore by cleaning with baking soda and taught me to get down on my hands and knees and cleaning vinyl flooring with a paring knife decades ago. I couldn't help but have a real fondness for a character who swears by baking soda for cleaning everything. And who wouldn't cheer for someone who'd been so ill-used to find herself and happiness?