I have never been as moved by a book as I was when reading A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. It’s the most memorable story I’ve read in years, probably because Backman so elegantly and subtly reminds us that people behave as they do for many different, complicated reasons, which gives them a totally unique viewpoint on life. How often do we forget that others don’t see the world through the same eyes as us?
With this in mind, I was very excited (and slightly nervous) to read Backman’s other novels, which have been translated into English from his native Swedish. I’m currently reading his third novel Britt-Marie Was Here, which focuses, like Ove, on a misunderstood character who on the face of it seems like an unlikable ‘nag bag’ but becomes completely endearing and charming as we get to know her.
Backman has created a very ‘real’ character in Britt-Marie, a woman in her twilight years who thrives on order, organisation and cleanliness and abruptly finds herself separated from her rich, entrepreneur husband and violently shaken out of her beloved routine. Britt-Marie lands a new job, in a new town and is thrown into a completely alien culture overnight. As the small, but beautifully layered story unfolds, we observe Britt-Marie as she tries to find her place in the town of Borg and adopt a new role as mentor to the town’s enthusiastic, football-mad but oft-ignored kids.We also meet some other curious, quirky, characters along the way.
While I’m still able to get sucked into a story purely for entertainment, it’s impossible not to read as a budding writer, and as I’ve devoured this book I’ve questioned what it is that makes it successful. The plot is well paced and there are turning points and unexpected calamities throughout. The reader also learns important information about Britt-Marie’s past, which adds real depth to her character and gives an insight into why she behaves like she does. Backman is also brilliantly observant, so the little exchanges and anecdotes in the story are often funny or poignant because we can recognise them from our own lives.
The writing is also wonderful. A couple of lines and phrases really shone out to me as I read
…his laughter fades, spills on to the floor and disappears.
He smiles in a way you’d hardly notice. She smiles in a way no-one would ever notice.
With a quarter of the book still to go I don’t think I’ve fallen in love as much as I did with Ove, but that would be an extremely tall order. I’d still highly recommend ‘Britt-Marie Was Here’ if you’re looking for a heartwarming and thought-provoking story, unlike any you’ve read before.