Saturday, April 30, 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie Was Here is A Man Called Ove author Fredrick Backman's third novel. Britt-Marie first appeared as the “nag-bag” in Backman’s second novel My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She Was Sorry. She’s a typical Backman character. She’s wry, annoying, flawed, and antisocial, but the reader can see that there’s hope for her to join the human race. Britt-Marie has left her cheating husband after forty years of marriage for a job in Borg, a tiny Swedish town where no one wants to live. Britt-Marie is a cleanliness freak; her obsession with baking soda and Faxin cleanser borders on caricature and it’s obvious from the time Britt-Marie arrives in Borg that she’ll be able to clean up the town’s problems even if it takes more than her beloved cleansers. 

Britt-Marie is the new caretaker of Borg’s decrepit recreation center for which her major qualifications are her cleanliness obsession and her dogged nagging of an employment counselor. In Borg, kids love soccer; Britt-Marie does not, but she learns about soccer as she learns to live on her own. Thus, the reader is asked to accept an improbable premise because of Britt-Marie's determination and it could have worked as Ove did - with meticulous plotting and great supporting characters.

The novel offers enlightening passages that show why Britt-Marie acts as she does. “When her older sister Ingrid died in an automobile accident, Britt-Marie’s mother made her feel as if the wrong sister died.” Britt-Marie is a winning character.  She’s clever, vulnerable, and funny and perhaps with a little more time and a more developed cast of supporting characters, this novel could have been as enjoyable as the charming Ove. Instead, it’s as if Mary Poppins were dropped into an economically depressed village where there’s no hope, yet the villagers’ kind hearts make them act like they’re straight out of Disney casting. Even the few evil folks have underlying problems that explain their inability to be kind which, naturally, Britt-Marie’s arrival will someday overcome. The book's children are endearing yet I often found myself trying to remember how old they were as they weren’t clearly delineated enough for me to know them. My only understanding of them was as objects who could make Britt-Marie more human. 

Summing It Up: Britt-Marie is charming, but the novel is too predictable. The denouement is easily discernible early in the novel yet the route to the ending is convoluted and contrived. Sometimes, three books in three years, is one too many.

Rating: 2 stars   
Category: Fiction, Over Cooked
Publication date: May 3, 2016
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