Britt-Marie Was Here, by Fredrik Backman*****

BrittmariewashereOh hey, today is Seattle Book Mama’s second birthday! Break open a bottle of sparkling water and toast my humble blog. I’ve done a lot of reading, and so much more is to come.

Britt-Marie is starting a new life after 40 years of marriage, and while she is driving with no destination in particular other than not-home, her car breaks down in a little burg called—wait for it—Borg. While  it’s being repaired, she becomes enmeshed in the life of this small, down-at-the-heels, economically depressed town. It sounds like a lot of stories, but oh, it isn’t. And I was really lucky to score this, a new one favorite, free of charge from Net Galley and Atria Books, in exchange for a fair review.

The beginning didn’t grab me. I incorrectly suspected that there was only one central point to the narrative and we were being hit over the head with it far more than was necessary. But I was fooled, because Backman is a sneaky-smart writer with a wicked sense of humor and a surprisingly philosophical bent. I was amazed at the depths this seemingly simple tale plumbed.

I don’t want to give you too much, and I could easily do it, having once again been carried away with my notes, which number over 300 in my kindle. I kept finding moments that were hilarious, or fascinating, or that just made me think. But here are some broad contours to start: Britt-Marie has lived at home all her life, first with her mother and later with husband Kent, who moved into her flat when they married, and so she has not even changed residence over the course of her life. When she was young she took classes and worked up a resume, but each time she got close to finding employment, Kent persuaded her that she was needed more at home, and so she has never had a job. Not once.

So after decades of marriage she decided not to notice the perfume on his shirt collar when she did the laundry, even though she herself does not wear scent of any kind. But when the woman phoned her home to tell her that her husband had had a heart attack, it became too obvious, too humiliating, and once she knew he was going to recover she tossed some things in a bag and got herself gone.

Now she wants a job, because she is afraid that otherwise she will die alone and no one will miss her. When you don’t show up for work, people notice, and she doesn’t want to pass from the Earth unnoticed and unmourned.

In the beginning some of the most hilarious passages involve socially clumsy, rude, or outrageous things that Britt-Marie does or says without intending harm. She’s clueless, but the further into the story we delve, the more we see more. We see that she is angry, too; she’s afraid of her own anger.

Although she has been taught through lifelong experience that her own needs should come last and that others should occupy the limelight, the residents of Borg, many of whom have plenty of quirks of their own, teach her that she has more value than she had previously realized.

They like her.

As the story progresses, all sorts of unforeseen twists and turns present themselves, and our formerly obnoxious protagonist turns out to have a tremendous amount of heart. I was watching to see whether the plot would become cloying or formulaic, but it never happened. And although the ending seemed a tiny bit contrived, at the same time I liked what it represented.

To learn more, you have to get the book and read it. And here there is great news: this book is available to the public, just released May 3, 2016. Highly recommended to all readers that are female or have women in their lives that mean anything at all to them. Seriously.

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