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.




Swede Lit: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

A very dear friend of mine is Swedish and is always trying to get me to improve on my Swedish language skills so that I can move there and be near her forever.

So far I can say “my name is Eva” and “trick or treat” so I’m really getting somewhere.

But she lets all this go if I just keep reading Swedish literature. This week I gained some more points reading Jonas Jonasson’s follow up to The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.


The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden combines some of my favourite things: royalty, Swedes and sarcasm. In it we meet Nombeko, born in the slums of Soweto in South Africa, who manages to learn how to read before being put in charge of a sanitation facility at the age of 12 until she runs away to Johannesburg where she is hit by a car driven by a drunk engineer. Since it was her fault he hit her (she was on the sidewalk after all) she is sentenced to 9 years of servitude at the engineer’s nuclear weapons facility. The engineer is a complete halfwit so it falls to Nombeko to undertake diplomatic relations, handle the Mossad and work out the nuclear calculations necessary to be in charge of a nuclear weapons facility.

Eventually she ends up in Sweden where her life becomes intertwined with twins, Holger One and Holger Two. One is obsessed with deposing the monarchy while Two doesn’t technically exist but was dealt all the brains in the family.

Once again Jonasson has created an unlikely cast of characters, deeply flawed but a total delight. This time most of them were idiots but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable to spend time with them. He also comes up with a string of plans and plots, each more unlikely than the next, most doomed to fail.

I was personally delighted when His Majesty, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden himself made a completely ridiculous and charming appearance in the book. It left me wondering if he has read the book or is even aware of it and if so, what does he think? Can someone find out for me?

Jonasson has clearly perfected the art of the mad cap adventure, leading readers through a host of impossible scenarios before delivering a perfectly wrapped up ending. There are very few sarcastic authors out there – it’s not easy to convey sarcasm without tone of voice – but Jonasson is among the best.