Monday, April 11, 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

From the publisher: The bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with an irresistible novel about finding love and second chances in the most unlikely of places. Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. And she is not passive-aggressive. Not in the least. It's just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention. But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination,bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes. When Britt-Marie walks out on her cheating husband and has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg she is more than a little unprepared. Employed as the caretaker of a soon-to-be demolished recreation center, the fastidious Britt-Marie has to cope with muddy floors, unruly children, and a (literal) rat for a roommate. In this small town of big-hearted misfits, can Britt-Marie find a place where she truly belongs? Funny and moving, observant and humane, Britt-Marie Was Here celebrates the unexpected friendships that change us forever, and the power of even the gentlest of spirits to make the world a better place.

I loved A Man Called Ove. Although I don’t like comparing it to Britt-Marie Was Here, it’s hard not to as the stories are similar in many ways. (We even have a rat taking the place of the Cat Annoyance.) If I didn’t know they were written by the same author, I would have thought “I’ve read this story before but Backman did it much better.”

If I did not know otherwise, I would also think that Ove is the later novel and Britt-Marie the earlier. Britt-Marie feels like a first draft of Ove, and Ove reads like the work of a more seasoned writer. The character of Ove felt like a real person to me, and I found the changes he underwent and the relationships he built completely believable. Britt-Marie does not feel like a real person, and I felt that her changes happened too quickly and not very credibly. I also found her a much less sympathetic character.

Britt-Marie also felt much more like a translation to me than did A Man Called Ove. I wondered if some phrases used multiple times made more sense in Swedish. For example, Britt-Marie often says “Ha” or “Ha. Ha.” when she is not laughing or expressing humor and this didn’t quite work for me.

I’m still glad I read Britt-Marie Was Here, as Backman’s gentle warmth still comes through in passages I enjoyed, like this one:
All her words to him are like staying in a hotel, new and curious and tentatively fumbling for switches on the wall, repeatedly turning on different lights than those she wanted to turn on. (p. 243 of the ARC)
I liked the charming 60-something policeman Sven and his many many courses to learn something new. It's nice to see books about romance and middle-aged people. I will definitely read whatever Backman writes next and recommend Britt-Marie Was Here to his fans.

I read an advance reader copy of Britt-Marie Was Here. It will be published on May 3 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in regular and large print.

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