Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman features a 63-year old woman named Britt-Marie who is determined to find a job after leaving her husband, Kent. She helped him raise his two children from a former marriage and has never held down a job.
She doesn’t know her own value nor strength because he often criticized her and told her she had no sense of humor. She leaves after he continually cheats on her and comes home smelling like pizza and strange perfume.
Britt-Marie goes to the unemployment office and the lady working there lets her know that she has nothing for her. But Britt-Marie, who appears to be sporadic in her thinking, goes back everyday and almost begins to harass the woman. She even cooks for her and plants herself into the office worker’s everyday life. She often calls the woman on her cell phone and the confused and exasperated woman from the unemployment office finally tells her that she has found one job.
It is as a caretaker for a recreation center in a town called Borg about 25 miles away. Britt-Marie packs up her car and heads to Borg and thus the story unfolds. The author uses an interesting technique of making the reader wonder if Britt-Marie is mentally sound. Perhaps this is Blackman’s way of sharing how broken she was from living with a domineering husband and being raised in the shadows of her preferred, now deceased sister.
However, Britt-Marie forges ahead and silently has a persistence and resolve that shock those around her. She finds the recreation center after meeting the woman who ran the pizza shop which was also the main eatery, the post office and the car repair shop. Borg had fallen on hard times after the trucking company left town. It was where the men worked and most of the women work at the town hospital.
Borg has become a city of broken dreams and hopelessness. There are For Sale signs in almost every lawn. But Britt-Marie has a cleaning fetish and she keeps her baking soda and special cleanser called Faxin, on hand. It provides her the therapy that she needs as she dives in and cleans the dirty and long forgotten Rec Center. As she is going in the center one day, she is knocked unconscious by a soccer ball.
When she regained consciousness, there are children standing around her and this is how Vega, Omar and host of others make their way into her life. Overtime, she cleans their jerseys, reignites their hearts and eventually becomes their soccer coach. The town is inspired, and they too attend the games and the For-Sale signs start coming down
Britt-Marie also uses her cleaning frenzies to clean the dirty pizza shop. She sets things in order in a variety of ways and even reawakens the town’s enthusiasm and interest in soccer. Subtly, her thinking processes seem to iron out and her confidence begins to climb like the mercury on a thermometer.
Many s take notice of her and she makes friends with the woman in the pizza shop who is called Somebody along with a few others. This is the first time that she’s ever really had friends. The local policeman, Sven takes a special liking to her. They start having coffee together and she trusts him to drive her around after her car is damaged.
And then, as she is recovering and growing, her husband Kent shows up. He convinces her to come back home and promises her that the affair is over. He comes to Borg and is first quite arrogant but backs down and appears to be somewhat reformed. She keeps putting him off until she can tie up some loose ends.
Kent uses his business acumen and helps her go to the city council and get a soccer pitch for the kids’ soccer team.
The book closes with Britt-Marie walking and thinking. She had knocked on Sven’s door though he was not there. He had asked her to do so many times in the past. Kent is waiting at a hotel for her to knock on his door the next morning. Yet there is a slight indication that he knew it might be too late for him.
The reader is unsure which door Britt-Marie knocks on to start another chapter of her life. But one thing is certain; Britt-Marie left a big mark on the hearts on the people of Borg.
Lynn M. May 13, 2019