I picked up a copy of Britt-Marie Was Here at a book sale. I felt confident spending the $1 on the copy since all the other Backman novels that I’ve read have been fantastic. Then, as I often do, I decided to listen to the audiobook instead- it’s all in the essence of time, you know? Anyways, the narrator (Joan Walker) never disappointed, and in this case perfectly brought the quirky Backman character to life.
Britt-Marie Was Here is a really great traditional Backman novel in which a conservative middle-aged woman decides to leave her husband who has been cheating on her, restarting her life. After years of pretending that her husband Kent wasn’t cheating, she finally had enough. However, she struggled to let go of the identity of being a woman who maintains a household and husband. She’s also a bit of an odd duck, in that she’s very rigid in her traditional ways, has a serious obsession with sodium bicarbonate, and terrified that one day when she dies, nobody will notice her passing or remember her. She isn’t what you would call a “warm” person, so she essentially has to learn how to relax, open up, and connect with the new people around her.
As time goes on she find her own identity and her voice, standing up for herself and others. She ends up living over a pizzeria in a low-income area of town, and starts incorporating herself into the town. As her character develops, I think she surprises herself by what she can do and what she can learn when she opens her mind. She gets roped into coaching a soccer team- despite her lack of soccer knowledge- by a group of kids that become rather dear to her. She also ends up conflicted about her feelings for another man.
As always Backman makes such realistic and beautifully flawed characters that, by the end of the novel, are revealed to be so much more relatable than what they seemed. I thought for sure that I wasn’t gonna like Britt-Marie in the beginning, but by the end of I understood her and so much more. She was more than just a traditional housewife who only went by her husband’s thoughts and opinions.
Overall I enjoyed the mostly lighthearted and witty novel. I really like how Backman always keeps his plot simple but always includes complex and deep themes within his novels such as, in this case, identity, loss, grief, classism, and prejudice. I also enjoyed how Backman incorporated football- or what we call in America, soccer. Britt-Marie would ask other characters about why they loved or rooted for certain teams, and I found the responses interesting in how they were so different from each other. Many struggled to explain why they routed for a team, but when they did, it was pretty insightful- beyond the team they were even rooting for, these answers shared what those people cared most about and where their hope stems from. I really thought that was a great way to connect with the readers. I would definitely would recommend the book or the audiobook of Britt-Marie Was Here.