Swedish author Fredrik Backman has become one of my favorite novelists. He is talented at introducing unlikable characters that become lovable once his readers get to know them. In his first book, A Man Called Ove, we got to know the curmudgeon known as “that bitter neighbor from hell’’ who ends up with a heart of gold.
In his second book, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Backman introduces readers to Britt-Marie, who drives everyone crazy in her apartment building. When 7-year-old Elsa asks Britt-Marie why she is a nagging busybody, Britt-Marie says it’s because “you need to care about something.’’ She also tells Elsa that “I want someone to remember I existed. I want someone to know I was here.’’ Unfortunately Britt-Marie seems to care about rather superficial things, like the order of her cutlery drawer (forks-knives-spoons!), her husband’s neatly pressed shirts and eating dinner precisely at 6 p.m. every night.
At the end of Backman’s second book, Britt-Marie decides it’s time to leave her cheating husband Kent and start a new life. This is a brave move for a woman who has existed in the shadow of her husband her entire adult life. Her story continues in Backman’s newest book, Britt-Marie Was Here. First she must find a job, which is difficult for a 63-year-old woman who hasn’t held a job in many decades. She ends up in a small, washed-up town called Borg, where many of the homes are for sale and most of the shops are closed because of the country’s financial crisis. She is hired as the temporary manager of the town’s recreation center, which she immediately starts to clean with bicarbonate soda. The main business in town is a combination pizzeria/post office/bank/grocery store, where Britt-Marie finds her first true friend. She also is shocked that the local police officer, Sven, is smitten with her.
While the townspeople feel downtrodden, they still love their football (soccer). Britt-Marie, who loathes football because her husband always ignored her while watching matches on television, is baffled by people’s love of the game. When she asks about the town’s infatuation with the sport, she is told, “Soccer forces life to move on. There’s always a new match. A new season. There’s always a dream that everything can get better. It’s a game of wonders.” When the town’s children are determined to play in an upcoming football cup, they realize they need a coach, so they ask Britt-Marie, who knows nothing about the game, to help them out. She soon discovers how much she loves these children and how much she has missed really feeling needed.
Britt-Marie Was Here is a moving novel that made me laugh and cry. Backman once again has written a touching story that focuses on how all human beings, even the annoying and grumpy ones, need and crave friendship and love. Highly recommended.