“A Man Called Ove” by Frederik Backman is one of my favourite books. Ove’s story of an elderly curmudgeon battling loneliness, finding friendship and peace touched my heart. Thus, during the Big-Bad Wolf sale, when I saw “Britt-Marie Was Here“ by the same author, I did not hesitate in purchasing this book.
“Britt-Marie Was Here” is a tale of a woman who is 63 years old. After having found out that her husband, around whom her life revolved, has cheated on her, Britt-Marie walks out on him. The clerk at the employment office gets her a temporary job as a caretaker of a soon to be demolished recreation centre in the small town of Borg. Borg is a town that is dying full of misfits. Britt-Marie, an organised soul who likes everything neat, tidy, in its proper place, is baffled by Borg and its inhabitants. But surprisingly, Britt-Marie discovers friendship, love and her true self there.
Britt-Marie, as a protagonist, is not particularly likeable. A cleanliness freak, she has a tendency to call a spade a spade. Her words are usually construed by her listeners as criticism, though in her defence, she is just telling the truth. Tact is a thing that she lacks. She comes across as a crabby old woman, but her attachment to her box of tulip bulbs shows her gentler side. Britt-Marie has hidden layers that she had suppressed for a long time. Britt-Marie is drawn into the lives of the people of Borg, becomes (surprisingly) the manager of their rag-tag football team. In helping them, Britt-Marie discovers herself.
Britt-Marie’s isolation from the world is sharp, tangible. The reader can sense her distress and confusion the first night she spends alone in the recreation centre. As the book progresses, just like a flower, one can sense warmth and hope unfurling within her. She realises that the people of Borg have become important to her, and that they care for her too. Despite Britt-Marie’s innate loneliness, this is not a depressing book. There is wry humour that makes the reader chuckle. Her unconventional friendship with the employment agent and her routine of keeping cheese for the rat of the recreation centre adds poignancy to the book. It makes the reader realise, how powerful seemingly innocuous connections can be, and how much of an impact they can have on our lives.
One criticism of “Britt-Marie was Here” has been that is a copy of “A Man called Ove”. Similarities are there. In both the books, the protagonists are elderly curmudgeons who are set in their way of life. Both are battling loneliness. In Ove’s case, he is mourning his wife whom he loved dearly. Britt-Marie misses her husband Kent, but more because of habit rather than love. While Ove finds friendship in his story, Britt-Marie’s story is about a person’s journey of discovering themselves.
“Britt-Marie Was Here” is perfect for a lazy afternoon read when you want a book, that is emotional, funny and makes you blink back tears. A book that makes you believe in the goodness of people and dream of a hopeful ending for a better tomorrow.
This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon for August,2021.