Friday, 10 March 2017
Book Review: Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
Britt-Marie was Here. By Fredrik Backman
By the same author as one of my absolute favourite books discoveries in 2016,,this is another one of the kind of books that the Swedish seem to do so terribly well. Forget Nordic Noir, think Swedish sweet and sour.
Wry and darkly comic ,Backman writes a sad tale with a hulking great seam of compassion for those on the fringes of society, running through it. The book made me chuckle and weep. There are huge highs and belly laughs but these are punctuated with moments of wonderfully pitched pathos and loss and grief are beautifully examined in the midst of what seems like a much lighter tale than it actually is.
As with the lovable Ove before her, Britt- Marie’s own personal idiosyncrasies which might at first glance, seem irritating or odd to the average person, suddenly become charming as the full scope of Britt Marie’s situation and heartsickness is revealed.
Homeless and jobless in her early sixties, Britt Marie undertakes a dead end job in a town on the cusp of total economic collapse. It is there she becomes embroiled in the lives of a motley bunch of black marketeers, alcoholic women with severe vision impairment, jovial policemen with a penchant for evening classes and a number of rag tag children. The only common thread just barely binding this fragile community is the upcoming tournament starting their local youth football team.
Into the chaos,Britt brings two very important things; an expertise in making a “good impression” and a prestigious amount of bicarbonate of soda with which she gradually begins to clean up the town. Here she forge bonds of friendship and brings light and hope into the hamlet again and with it, a level of self fulfilment that she has never once experienced in all her life.
This is a wonderful book where again Backman utilises loneliness and missed opportunity as central themes. Football takes on a mythical power as a metaphor for so very much more than boots on leather. It becomes a measure of your personality, your tenacity and your passion.
I still feel a deep empathy for Britt-Marie who never quite reaches bliss, but I am hopeful for her and this book drew me in from the very start. The characters are rough around the edges, all are much more than they seem on first viewing , but so utterly lovable and even the least likeable are still relatable. My initial loathing for husband Kent, was moulded and honed into a sadness that he was just ignorant for too long and that life could have been so different for them both, but that is Backman’s true gift
He presents things with a stark clarity and allowing things to just develop with contrivance.
He is an exceptional crafter of tales.
Britt-Marie is my favourite sort of heroine, the one who strives for the smallest things but actually is a catalyst for the most amazing positive change. She is the tiny screw that suddenly makes the whole mechanism purr into life.
I must admit to wanting a slightly different ending, but you cannot always have the perfect ending even when your strip is spotless, your aim laser-sharp and you turn the game around in the final moments. Life is just is not a game and you cannot win them all. Sometimes a draw is all you can hope for, but when things get difficult, at least you know you can get the worst of the smuts out with the liberal application of baking soda!