Rated Reads

Britt-Marie Was Here

by Fredrik Backman

Rated: High

When Britt-Marie finds out her longtime husband has cheated on her, she leaves him and goes off in search of paid work. Since she’s in her 60s and has never properly held a job except for a short stint as a waitress, the pickings are slim. So she finds herself in a small backwater town called Borg, which is pretty literally being shut down one business at a time. The recreation center needs a caretaker until it’s closed, so she takes the position, even though it’s only for a short time.

Britt-Marie likes to have everything just so. Forks, knives and spoons should rest in that particular order in a cutlery drawer, and when she doesn’t know what else to do, she cleans. Faxin is her window cleaner of choice: It’s boosted her spirits since she was little. Her husband, Kent, has always told her she has no sense of humor; she doesn’t relate well to other people, and she certainly doesn’t find soccer entertaining.

When she pulls into Borg, Britt-Marie meets the young people of the town, playing soccer in a gravel parking lot. She furiously cleans — and re-cleans — the recreation center. She has hardly anything else to do; she doesn’t know what to do with herself now that she’s no longer her husband’s caretaker.

Over time, she gets pulled into the lives of the few remaining (and mostly quirky) citizens of Borg. She develops friendships of sorts with the wheelchair-bound woman who runs the pizzeria/post office/mechanic shop/grocery store and the prickly, legally blind former soccer player who owns the house she rents a room in. She draws the attention of the older local policeman, Sven, whose interest in her seems quite inexplicable to her. And she somehow ends up becoming the coach of the kids’ soccer team.

Slowly, Britt-Marie starts to spread her wings a bit and find new parts of herself. I was cheering her on not far into the book, hoping she would make the tough decisions (for her) and find some happiness and connection. The book is gently humorous, tender and at times sad. It’s entertaining and sweet. There are too many wonderful metaphors for me to have kept track of, and I loved each one of them. I ended up taking my time reading the book because my life was busy, but I was able to savor it more that way, which was a bonus. A lovely book.

Rated: High, for language. There are around 20 uses of strong language and a fair amount of moderate language. There are some uses of British cursing that won’t offend American readers. There’s a little in the way of violence. There are no sexual references, really, but the information that there’s adultery that’s happened.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

One Response to Britt-Marie Was Here

  1. […] as in the tradition of A Man Called Ove, which I haven’t read, but whose author’s other book Britt-Marie Was Here starred a very quirky protagonist and was utterly charming. I read this because of that billing and […]

  • Britt-Marie Was Here
  • by Fredrik Backman
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: