8

Swede Lit Win: Britt-Marie Was Here

At the beginning of the month, the chaos of my life started bleeding into my reading. I wasn’t able to focus on reading for any length of time. I went days without reading any pages at all!

Finally, Fredrik Backman rescued me.

We all know that I loved A Man Called Ove and tried to force a number of you to read it. I also fell in love with My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes. I was hopeful for more of the same for Britt-Marie Was Here but also, how can a third book possibly hold up?

Oh it did!

britt1

The cover I have

Britt-Marie was one of the characters from My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes. She was the one that Elsa’s grandmother tormented by shooting a paintball gun at her or pretending to hurl a dead body off the balcony. She was uptight, believed in everything in it’s proper place and just didn’t seem to care about much except to have the place clean and tidy.

Well at the beginning of Britt-Marie Was Here, Britt-Marie is living in a hotel room, desperate for a job to keep herself occupied after leaving her husband Kent, a serial philanderer who only values his wife for her ability to keep his life in order. There aren’t a lot of jobs in his economy, which Britt-Marie maintains is fine now as that’s what her husband has told her and he’s in business you know, but finally something is found for her. The rec centre at Borg, the kind of place that has only a road through it to recommend it, is looking for someone to keep it tidy.

britt2

The cover I prefer

So Britt-Marie is off to Borg, a town decimated by the loss of their trucking industry jobs, where kids are left to fend for themselves, who only have the remnants of a soccer team left to give order to their days. Britt-Marie lands in Borg with nothing and has to contend with the semi-legalities of the supermarket-pizza-place-pub-laundromat-mechanic, motherless kids whose elder brother is mixed up with nefarious influences, and a blind roommate dealing with the loss of her father. And somehow, Britt-Marie, who knows nothing about soccer, becomes the kids’ soccer coach.

Britt-Marie Was Here has all the hallmarks of a Backman novel but instead of feeling repetitive and unoriginal, it is comforting and fun. Britt-Marie herself remains essentially the same – she still values cleanliness, has a love for glass cleaner, and prefers that things are done as they have always been done – but she makes room in her life for those who live in Borg. In so doing, she allows hidden parts of herself to come back to life after lying dormant for years. We come to realize that there has always been more to Britt-Marie. And Borg feels all the effects of Britt-Marie having been in town.

In the end, once again, I found myself in tears. It’s not a Fredrik Backman book unless you find yourself in tears in the end.

 

 

14

Swedish Lit For Always

Remember when I read A Man Called Ove and told you all to read it? Remember how I told you that I lay in bed in the dark and cried silently because it affected me that much?

Remember how Fredrik Backman’s book My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologizes was released in English earlier this year?

Well I read it.

And when I finished reading it, I lay in the dark crying silently because I was so affected by it.

DAMN IT BACKMAN, STOP MAKING ME FEEL SO MANY THINGS.

grandmother

Elsa is seven-almost-eight. She lives in an apartment with her mom and her step-dad. Her Granny lives in one of the apartments downstairs and she pretty well spends all of her time with her Granny. Granny tells Elsa fairy-tales about the Land-of-Almost-Awake: about the two princes who fight over the same girl but only end up fighting each other, about brave Wolfheart, a warrior who saved the whole country, about the snow-angel who had been left behind, trapped in the place where everything had been taken from it.

Elsa’s Granny isn’t one for rules. If she wants to break out of the hospital to take Elsa to the zoo in the middle of the night, then she’s bloody well going to. They have a secret language that they speak, Granny always stands up for Elsa, always has her back, and tells her that being different is good. Elsa doesn’t have any other friends: Granny is it. So when Granny dies, Elsa feels very alone.

Granny must have known this would happen because she sends Elsa on a kind of scavenger hunt. Her task, as Granny’s brave knight of the Land-of-Almost-Awake, is to take letters to the other tenants in the building, allowing Granny to apologize for all the horrible things she did in life (like hit Britt-Marie with a paintball gun, or pretend to throw a body off the balcony) and to get to know the people who live there.

I teared up for the first time on page 22. It happened again on page 38. But I also chuckled many many times. Elsa reads “quality literature” like superhero comic books – she sees the world in shades of Marvel. She also has a deep and abiding love for Harry Potter that is the most delightful thing I’ve read in a long time. Someone send a copy of this book to JK Rowling because I think she would get a kick out of it.

For example:

‘I…I bought these Harry Potter books yesterday. I haven’t had time to get very far yet, but, you know.’

‘What made you change your mind?’

‘I…I understand Harry Potter is important to you.’

‘Harry Potter is important for everyone!’

Preach, Elsa. Preach!

I loved going on this quest with Elsa. I loved the reminder that different is good, that healing takes time, and above all grandmothers are really the very best. If you loved A Man Called Ove, I’m fairly confident you will be delighted with My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologizes.

What do you have for us next Mr. Backman?

24

Go and read A Man Called Ove immediately

My eyes are red and a little puffy today and I’m totally exhausted.

I decided to stay up late to finish reading A Man Called Ove and ended up sobbing in bed. Then I couldn’t fall asleep because I kept thinking about Ove and making myself cry again. And again. Even right now thinking about it I’m a little teary. It joins the ranks of The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow, Me Before You and The Elegance of the Hedgehog as books that make me lose my sh*t.

Fredrik Backmans’ A Man Called Ove wasn’t on my TBR List. It wasn’t even on my radar at all. But every time I went to the bookstore, there would be this little book, dozens of them all stacked up making a statement like “you might as well buy me, I’m not going anywhere.” It’s been selected as a Chatelaine Book Club book  (The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy was another recent selection so I’d say that the Chatelaine book club is kind of killing it right now) and every time I saw it, it was accompanied by a write up declaring it to be a heartwarming, delightful read.

I’m always up for more heartwarming books and I love being delighted.

man called ove

Ove is a grumpy man. He doesn’t understand why people today can’t be bothered to do things properly anymore. Why people always take shortcuts – one must shovel the snow deliberately, not just clear a little path. He has only ever driven Saabs and doesn’t trust those folks that drive BMWs. Ove lives in a world that is black and white, where rules are rules. His entire life he has been plagued by “men in white shirts” who make it impossible for him to just continue to live the way he wants to live; namely, the right way.

So when a young family moves in across the street, you know this is going to cause problems. Heavily pregnant Parvaneh and her lanky husband Patrick start asking Ove for all kinds of help. At first Ove is reluctant – he has plans of his own and he can’t be getting involved in other people’s business even if it’s clear that Patrick is completely useless – but eventually he gives in as he’d rather things were done properly. And he’s clearly the only one that can be trusted to do things properly.

Once you let one person into your life, it opens the door to let a whole bunch of others walk right in.

This book is hilarious and completely devastating. I found myself laughing hysterically – there is something incredibly endearing about a man who refers to a stray cat as The Cat Annoyance, or who puts newspaper on the seats before allowing a 3 and 7 year old to sit in his car  – and then the next page I’d be fighting tears.  Ove is old fashioned and gruff but he accepts people for who they are. He is loyal and if he says he’s going to do something, he will do it. He might be swearing under his breath the whole time, but he’ll do it. I wish I had an Ove in my life.

A Man Called Ove is the story of a man learning how to live again. It’s a f&*king delight and I hope you read it.