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!


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.


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.




That Time I Read 100 Books

I did it. I don’t know how but I managed to read 100 books this year. So far.

One hundred books! Let’s be honest – this year was some kind of awesome book anomaly. I can’t imagine that I will ever hit this kind of reading number again so let’s just all take a moment to bask in this moment’s glory.

As I was approaching the milestone, I started to think about what book I should read for number 100. Should it be a short book that got me there faster? Should it be a book of massive cultural significance? I have a good memory – there is every chance that I will remember what book I chose that one time I read 100 books.

The answer was pretty obvious. It was staring me in the face but it took a friend pointing it out to me for me to realize that.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.

100 books, 100 year old man. Obviously.

Jonas Jonasson’s book about a 100 year old man that’s had enough of life in an Old Folk’s home and just decides to up and leave has been sitting on my shelf for weeks – ever since I stole it from my father-in-law to be. He hasn’t even read it yet. I’m a bookish a**hole. Stealing might be putting it a bit harshly – he told me to take it. Not sure he realized how long it would be til he got it back though.

So it’s been sitting on my shelf for months and I just kept finding other things to read. I guess I was just saving it for a special occasion.

100year old man

This book is fantastic. I didn’t have any preconceived notions going in – this is one of those books that doesn’t tell you much on the cover. Just that Allan Karlsson is 100 and he hates living in the Old Folks’ home and he likes vodka. A character I can get behind. So Allan leaves the Home, walks to the bus station and gets on a bus. But not before he is asked to watch a suitcase so an agitated young man can go use the facilities. Allan knows that he only has so much time before the people at the Home realize he’s gone and come looking for him so when his bus shows up and the guy is still in the bathroom, he just takes the suitcase with him. He’s 100, he doesn’t care.

Turns out that the suitcase contains 50 million Swedish kroner. Suddenly Allan is in the middle of a manhunt but we soon find out that Allan is an extremely unique individual; over the course of his life he has matter-of-factly had dinner with Generalissimo Franco, Mao Tse Tung, Harry S. Truman, Stalin and Kim Il-Sung. He even comforted a 10-year-old Kim Jong-Il when “Uncle Stalin” died. He spends time in a Russian Gulag and an Iranian prison and collects an incredible amount of knowledge about nuclear arms.

I loved this book. Allan is so matter-of-fact and calm about everything. He is completely apolitical so has no opinions about the sorts of people he ends up getting mixed up with. The motley crew of people he bands with in the modern day are equally hilarious and odd. There’s the red-headed woman who lives with an elephant and a dog, the hot-dog stand vendor who has spent a life time almost qualifying for every profession you can think of and the criminal boss who discovers a kindred spirit in our Mr. Karlsson.

This book was an unexpected treat. I’m glad I saved it for now but it’s another one of those books that makes me sad to leave my book friends behind.