Likely Stories: Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Jul 25, 2019

Another in a series of Swedish novels, which are quite funny

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Fredrik Backman is one funny writer.  He is a Swedish columnist, blogger, and writer.  He is the author of A Man Called OveMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, Beartown, and Us Against You.  His novels offer the reader many, many hours of laughter and tears.  Britt-Marie Is Here is my latest read by Backman.

Britt-Marie cannot stand numerous assaults on neatness, uncleanliness, and poor manners.  She is socially awkward, and she does not suffer fools.  However, she is a ferocious and meticulous cleaner.  She also takes care to feed a rat, which takes up residence in her living space.  She has recently separated from her husband, Kent, and she is now courted by Sven, a handsome police officer who lives in the town of Borg. 

Another example of her peculiarities occurs when, “Britt-Marie fetched [Kent’s] shirt from the bedroom floor and put it in the washing machine, as usual.  Then she washed it and reorganized his electric shaver in the bathroom.  Kent often maintained that she has ‘hidden’ his shaver, when he stood there in the morning yelling ‘Brit-Marie’ because he couldn’t find it, but she’s not hiding it at all.  She was reorganizing.  There’s a difference.  Sometimes she reorganized because it was necessary, and sometimes she did it because she loved hearing him call out her name in the mornings” (12).

Fredrik writes, “Britt-Marie stays awake all night.  She’s used to that, as people are when they have lived their entire lives for someone else. // She sits in the dark, of course, otherwise what would people think if they walked by and saw the light left on as if there was some criminal inside” // But she does not sleep, because she remembers the thick layer of dust on the floor of the recreation center before she started cleaning, and if she dies in her sleep she’s certainly not going to risk lying here until she starts smelling and gets all covered in dust.  Sleeping on one of the sofas in the corner of the recreation center is not even worth thinking about, because they were so filthy that Britt-Marie had to wear double latex gloves when she covered them with baking soda.  Maybe she could have slept in the car?  Maybe, if she were an animal” (45). 

Backman continues, “Britt-Marie puts on her coat.  Outside the front door is a person who was clearly just about to knock on it.  The person has a face and the face is full of snuff.  This, in every way possible, is an awful way of establishing the very short-lived acquaintance between Britt-Marie and the face, because Britt-Marie loathes snuff.  The whole thing is over in twenty seconds, when the snuff-face moves off while mumbling something that sounds distinctly like ‘nag-bag.” (58).

As time passes, Britt-Marie develops an odd relationship with the children who live in the Borg, a town nearly completely void of people.  The children need help with getting a coach for a soccer team.  Britt-Marie knows nothing of sports, but she tries.  My only complaint about Britt-Marie Was Here, Fredrik Backman’s otherwise fine novel, is the ending.  I had a couple of thoughts predicting what those might be, but I was wrong.  4-1/2 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!