BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE is a perfect candidate for your next book club pick. This should come as no surprise. After the success of A MAN CALLED OVE and MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY, Fredrik Backman has proven himself to be essential reading.
Britt-Marie, the “nag-bag” from MY GRANDMOTHER, is the eponymous character in this truly wonderful book. She is a woman who has been underappreciated, ignored, and scorned, and she isn’t taking it anymore. (It is worth noting that MY GRANDMOTHER isn’t a prerequisite novel for reading BRITT-MARIE. I read BRITT-MARIE first, and, if anything, it made me love MY GRANDMOTHER even more.)
When her decades-long marriage ends and life as she knows it is over, Britt-Marie, now in her 60s, begins the novel doing what all newly independent adults are forced to do: she looks for a job. Unfortunately, taking care of a home doesn’t translate to the job market well. This leads her to a new life in Borg.
Borg is…a less than desirable place to live. The children are a bit rough around the edges. The adults are downright vulgar. It is not at all like Britt-Marie to accept a job at a rundown recreation center in a town that has been on the receiving end of some hard knocks.
What Britt-Marie doesn’t know is that this town needs her, and she needs this town.
The misfit children of the rec center flock to Britt-Marie, and she soon finds herself the de facto soccer coach. This is so much more than a story about a bunch of unruly, terrible soccer players and their fastidious coach. They’re a team that’s tired of being overlooked and cast aside much like their new coach, and they are out to prove that a few losses don’t make you a loser. Britt-Marie has a fire in her that forces her out of her comfort zone, and it’s just the attitude the people in this town need.
These small acts of independence create an interesting ripple effect in Britt-Marie’s life. Watching her gain confidence while she wrestles with her past is both gripping and satisfying. She is forced to confront the years of emotional abuse she suffered in her marriage and, in the company of the supportive neighbors of Borg, discover the strong and independent qualities she never realized she had in her. It’s incredibly jarring for Britt-Marie. Of course, that’s not the only conflict in Backman’s playing field. The children’s struggles are just as interesting as Britt-Marie’s.
While a soccer match might just be a symbol for these downtrodden characters, the enthusiasm for the game, and all it truly represents, is infectious. BRITT-MARIE WAS HERE is all about symbolic battles. Full of ups, downs, wins, and losses, Fredrik Backman has written a book that is guaranteed to make you stomp your feet as if you really are in the stands.
Will Rhino works in the publishing office at Atria Books.