Britt-Marie is Here by Fredrick Backman is written with cheerful ironic misery. A style that I have come to associate with Swedish literature, where stark, often brutal reality, butts up against the everyday ridiculousness of life. Think The Hundred-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. If you liked those books, you will like this one too.
It is a story of a pedantic, rigid, women in her 60s, Britt-Marie, who has left her husband, her ordered life and everything she has known for the past 40 years.
Resigned and adrift, it is only when she becomes the unlikely coach of the local football team in the tiny, downtrodden town of Borg that Britt-Marie finally starts to bend and unfurl, like a flower responding to the sun.
I liken this book to a modern day, Swedish, Mary Poppins; except that this Mary Poppins isn’t as self-assured as her British counterpart. When Britt-Marie feels out of her depth, she cleans; using copious amounts of bi-carbonate soda and her trusty brand of window cleaner. She also uses her ‘list’ as armour against the many things she finds nonsensical in life. It gives her purpose. If it’s on the list it gets done, but she only uses pencil to fill it in – she’s not that inflexible after all…
Despite its light tone, the book is also spattered with poignant messages: ‘The winter requires whoever is doing the watering to have a bit of faith, in order to believe that what looks empty has every potential.’ And it’s this depth, along with Backman’s unique and engaging prose, that raises it from a light, enjoyable read to something a bit more substantial and thought provoking.
My only criticism is that at times I felt Britt-Marie is used too much to provide comic relief and that the UK focused translations sometimes dampened the Swedish cultural nuances. But overall, Backman manages to balance the light and shade in this book well.
In its essence this is a book about having the courage to jump into life and follow your dreams, no matter how small they are, how old you are or how large the circumstances that get in the way.
“That is the reason why passion is worth something not for what it gives us but for what it demands we risk.”
A great read.