Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here

Title:  Britt-Marie Was Here
Author:  Fredrik Backman
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2016. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1501142534 / 978-1501142536

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Forks. Knives. Spoons. In that order."

Favorite Quote:  "All marriages have their bad sides, because people have weaknesses. If you live with another human being you learn to handle these weaknesses in a variety of ways. For instance, you might take the view that weaknesses are a bit like heavy pieces of furniture, and based on this you must learn to clean around them. To maintain the illusion. Of course the dust is building up unseen, but you learn to repress this for as long as it goes unnoticed by guests. And then one day someone moves a piece of furniture without your say-so, and everything comes into plain view. Dirt and scratch marks. Permanent damage to the parquet floor, By then it's too late."

Britt-Marie is in her sixties. Britt-Marie is judgmental and has a certain way of doing everything.  "You can't change Britt-Marie's way of seeing the world." Britt-Marie has been meek and in the background in her life. "Britt-Marie never had to be noticed, for the simple reason that she always did everything without even having to be told." However, perhaps, there is more to Britt-Marie than meets the eye because after all "it takes an excellent imagination to pretend one doesn't understand anything year in, year out, even though one washes all his shirts and one doesn't use perfume."

Britt-Marie is now also recently separated and feels like a job is a logical next step. This search brings her to a temporary job in a small town called Borg, "a community built along a road". The town is slowly dying as the economy struggles and schools and businesses close down. This particular town maybe in Sweden, but really could be any small town anywhere; readers will recognize the small town feel where everyone knows everyone's business and where economic downturns seem to hit so much harder. Perhaps, though, there is more to Borg than meets the eye because people still stay and children continue to play.

In some ways, Britt-Marie's story reminds me of Harriet Chance, but ultimately the stories go in completely different directions. This is Your Life, Harriet Chance looks back at a life to see how it gets to a point late in Harriet's life. Britt-Marie's story is about moving forward, and for now, that involves the townspeople of Borg. Somebody (yes, that's the name) seems to run every remaining business in town. Vega is a talented football/soccer player and a teenage girl with an attitude. Omar is Vega's younger brother and quite the entrepreneur. Sami is an older brother, trying to take on the role of a parent even as he struggles to grow up himself. Sven is the local police officer whose major pastime is taking classes in the nearby town. Bank (a woman) becomes Britt-Marie's landlord and brings her own brand of caring to this town. These are just some of the motley crew of Borg residents who enter Britt-Marie's life.

This book becomes a journey of self-discovery for both Britt-Marie and this small community. Britt-Marie comes past her preconceived, set in stone ideas and discovers the woman she was always meant to be. The town of Borg discovers that it still has the heart and soul of a community more vibrant than its physical state would suggest. Both rebirths become possible because of the other, and the reader is taken along on this journey. The change is not always easy, nor always joyful, but it is ultimately hopeful.

Throughout the book, I think I know where the book is going. I think I know how it's going to end, but I am surprised in the best possible way. I absolutely loved the ending of the book. It is completely not what I expected, and it completely works for the story.

This book is very quick and easy to read. Many parts of it make me smile and laugh; certain parts make me cry. The entire book manages in its simplicity to completely involve me in the story. I can picture the characters and the town, down to the mud of the soccer field. I feel like I know Britt-Marie and the townspeople of Borg; I care about them.

"At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks himself are about one thing:  how should you live your life?" I have to say, I love Britt-Marie's answer.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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