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Book Review – Britt-Marie Was Here

A human being, any human being at all, has so perishingly few chances to stay right there, to let go of time and fall into the moment. And to love somebody without measure. Explode with passion.

All other emotions belong to the earth, but passion inhabits the universe.

This book was so blisteringly poetic, my eyes were near constantly watering because I was forcing myself to read the same prophetic sentence over and over again until it really hit home, until it sunk into my bones and changed something nuclear in me.

I always start a Fredrik Backman novel off hating it. I really do. And I’m not sorry for saying that, because they do build slowly. But they build into something that shatters your opinion of the universe until you’re stuck picking up the pieces of your brain matter with the book’s messages bouncing around your empty scull. 

I can’t believe how amazing this book turned out. And at several turns I found myself expecting something cliché to happen, and at several turns I was taken by surprise. At several turns the originality of Britt-Marie Was Here smacked me over the head until I was practically brain dead. 

It’s not a particularly thrilling adventure, but it is full of thrilling substance, the type that slows your breathing a bit because you feel yourself choking on the realness of it all. Of Fredrik Backman’s words. Of the ingeniousness of his temporal lobe. 

Britt-Marie Was Here follows Britt-Marie, a newly single, sixty-five-year-old woman, as she searches for a life lived so grandiosely, people will notice her absence not two seconds after she’s left. But as Britt-Marie moves her way into a community so terribly affected by the recession, she finds more than just a life with meaning. She maybe, maybe, finds love. The type of love that doesn’t require Faxin. The type of love that serves her just as she serves it. The type of love to pull her into its arms and allow her the simple pleasures of exploring it without great demands.

It was a tale filled with great characters, quirky and abrasive, nut-busting and nagging, alive and completely relatable. And it pulled me in page after page until I didn’t want to be let go. I could’ve stayed in that community with the whole cast until the end of time.

One of the greatest things about this book was it’s soccer theme. I don’t like soccer, watch soccer, anything, and as this book was told from the point of view of someone who, too, could live life without soccer, it sort of made you a fan of the game as everyone else seemed to be. 

I particularly liked how each person had a specific team they supported, and how each team spoke volumes about that person. How you didn’t need anything more than their soccer team to pass a judgment about that person. 

I loved how Britt-Marie passed judgment but always made it known that she wasn’t the type of person to judge. And I love how you eventually realize she isn’t judgmental at all. She surprised me with her acceptance, and each page pulled back another layer until she was like puddy in my hands, each organ out on display, vulnerable like never before. 

It was a tried and true character arc for the ages. It played out beautifully and never moved at a pace you couldn’t keep up with and/or believe. 

I loved Britt-Marie’s moments of revelation. She grasped life, had a firm hold on it, but never understood it. And I liked learning the hows and whys of the universe with her. I liked seeing it unfold through a pair of eyes forty-plus years my senior. 

It’s difficult to know when love blooms; suddenly one day you wake up and it’s in full flower. It works the same way when it wilts–one day it is just too late. Love has a great deal in common with balcony plants in that way. Sometimes not even baking soda makes a difference.

Another strong aspect of this book–Britt-Marie’s near constant tidying up and cleaning

God, was the woman stubborn. She wants Faxin, no other cleaning product will do, and please don’t come into her home baring any gifts but cleaning supplies. 

It was so consistent. All of her reactions and how they weren’t particularly human because I don’t think after something terrifying happens, look how dirty this place is, as Britt-Marie did. 

And it’s funny how she winds up in the most unkept place on planet earth it seems, in a town riddled with people who look like criminals and kids who play soccer on a gravel road and are repeatedly bloodied and muddied. You can feel her frustration as she cleans up after these people. As she watches them make messes of themselves and their lives and her hesitancy to step in because–she’ll be the first to tell you–she’s not the type to stick her nose where it doesn’t belong. 

Above all else, Britt-Marie made a mess of herself trying to clean up after everybody else. She forgot who she was and found herself at a place in her life where she wasn’t sure if anyone would know she’d died until the stench of her rotting body had drifted into their floorboards. And god, it’s such an honest fear to have–dying alone. Not living life to the absolute fullest.

She misses her balcony more than anything. You’re never quite alone when you can stand on a balcony–you have all the cars and houses and people in the streets. You’re among them, but also not.

Britt-Marie just wanted to belong somewhere. She wanted to be seen. And it struck a chord in me, because this woman is sixty-five still wanting to belong somewhere, and it’s sort of an inspirational message–don’t wait until others expect you to already belong to find where it is you belong. Don’t settle for one man because your mom makes you feel unwanted. Don’t fall into a rut where you’re cleaning up the mistakes of others and excusing your husband so repeatedly that you’ve lost a sort of respect for him. 

So Britt-Marie stays in there and dries her hair and brings them luck and has a life crisis.

This line above is a bit esoteric if you haven’t read the book, but when you have you sort of realize it’s the perfect line to sum up what happens in this book.

I adored the kids. I adored them. I adored their immaturity and their glaring moments of maturity. I adored their childhoods, despite how unfair their circumstances truly were. And I adored their passion for soccer, something that was unwavering and something that sparkled amongst the mud of the bullshit they’d been served. 

And finally, the prose. Fredrik is a master of eloquence. He describes simply what we all cannot grasp after years and years of mulling over it in our brains: life. Love. Time. Appreciation. He has three complicated aspects of human existence wrapped around his finger, and he provides, with great ease, his promise that it all means something. 

He didn’t just set the perfect scenes. Or characterize the perfect characters. Or write the perfect dialogue. Or structure the perfect plot. 

He created a perfect imperfect world, where life has meaning and we aren’t just players, we are creators.

People sometimes refer to darkness as something that falls, but in places like Borg, it doesn’t just fall, it collapses.



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