While I only discovered author Fredrik Backman's much hyped about novel A Man Called Ove about a year ago, I was instantly sold. His second book translated into English, My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises, even ended up talking the top spot on my list of favourite books of 2015. So when a spin-off with with one of the chararacters from his latest novel was announced, I knew this was a title I had to get my eager hands on as soon as possible. Britt-Marie was actually my least favourite character from the original book, but in true Backman form the story was a heartwarming eye-opener and it completely turned my opinion of her around.
After the events in My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises, Britt-Marie has not only lost her husband but also her purpose in life. She is determined to find a job and she isn't picky about what this might be. It's been a few decades since she last worked outside of her home, and sure the world has changed a lot since then, but through sheer persistence and a willingness to tackle whatever comes onto her path Britt-Marie soon finds herself relocating to the town of Borg and in charge of the local recreation centre.
Borg hasn't much going for it as all the local amenities are shutting down and people are moving away if they can. Even the recreation centre is due to be closed at any minute, but until then someone needs to take care of the building and that's where Britt-Marie comes in. Armed with little else than sheer determination and a bottle of Faxin, she is nothing short of a tour de force in the desolate town, coaching the local kids' football team and forming friendships with the unlikeliest of town locals.
Britt-Marie was a stern, old-fashioned person when I first met her but just like the titular character in A Man Called Ove, first impressions of people so often deceive and there was far more to Britt-Marie than initially met the eye. Sure, she may be set in her ways and she may have some peculiar habits, but there is a reason for her presenting herself to the outside world the way she does and underneath her disciplined exterior there is someone who is supportive and generous to others, though it turns out that she is the one in need of kindness, validation and a simple helping hand most of all.
I was surprised by how complex Britt-Marie's backstory actually was, both at the time of My Grandmother Sends her Regards and Apologises which I didn't realise while reading that book, as well as her upbringing and even the short but formative period she spends with the people in Borg. Fredrik Backman excels at creating endlessly fascinating characters that are flawed and hugely realistic. There is so much depth to Britt-Marie and even if you don't like the way she behaves or certain choices she has made, there is no denying that there is a very valid, and heartbreaking, reason for her being the way she is – and when that realisation hit I fell in love with her.
I may not quite 'like' Britt-Marie as I do Ove, or even the young protagonist in My Grandmother Sends her Regards and Apologises, but I understand her, flaws and all. Not to mention that Backman's charming humour provided me with fits of giggles as much as I felt my throat close up while reading this novel. He is a very gifted storyteller who excels at creating quirky stories with the most interesting and layered characters imaginable. Borg could've easily been a dull backdrop to Britt-Marie's story, yet the colourful townspeople added a wonderful vibrancy and charm to the book, and it's impossible to not start caring for them like Britt-Marie does.
While Britt-Marie Was Here didn't quite reach A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises heights, it was an exemplary example of character growth and complexity, and highlighted the importance of looking past someone's exterior to what is hiding underneath. It's often heart-breaking and coming to this realisation can really turn your perception of a person around. In the end, Britt-Marie left a loving imprint onto the town of Borg and on my heart.
Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Britt-Marie Was Here is published by Hodder & Stoughton and you can buy a copy from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.
Connect with Fredrik Backman