I fell in love with Backman’s prose and worldview in A Man Called Ove. I love his new book, Britt-Marie Was Here, but not quite as much. Britt-Marie, like Ove, is a complex character whose inside is much bigger than her outside, and I struggled to decide why I loved her a little less. I decided that, while Backman had created a complex character, he had not fully convinced me of Britt-Marie as a woman. Upon reflection, my reticence was really the clue that Britt-Marie was anysexual with a woman’s name and biography, and, given the particular elements of Backman’s plot, that troubled the work from start to finish. All of that aside, I will still recommend this book, but, if a friend were to only read one of Backman’s novels, I would insist it must be Ove and not Britt-Marie.
Britt-Marie is troubled. She has recently left her cheating husband. Her sister died tragically when they were young, after which her father left and her mother sank into depression. Britt-Marie is of the generation of women who married with the expectation that their job was to care for their husbands and households and to foster their husbands’ careers and in return their husbands would care for them financially and give them the respect due a wife. Britt-Marie’s husband forgot his end of the deal. She cared for the children of his first marriage, then his business clients and him to be rewarded with a resume that could not land her a job in anything but sitting for a closed recreation center in a town left behind by the financial crisis.
At first I wondered if Britt-Marie were on the autism spectrum. She is obsessed with cleaning, and with a particular brand of cleaner. She is brutally honest in defiance of all social convention. She is socially awkward and obstinate.
As she settles into the town and becomes slowly entangled in the lives of some of its residents, Britt-Marie loses the edge of her social awkwardness. She tempers her brutal honesty and she makes friends with a rat.
I listened to the audiobook of Ove and I wonder how Britt-Marie would have unfolded in the voice of a narrator outside my head. I was, actually, nervous reading this work and feared that Backman’s prose would not hold up to the high standard established by the narrator of Ove. I was wrong–Backman’s prose is lovely no matter the medium. And that is why, even if Britt-Marie may be a cross-dressing character, she is worth the read.
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the advanced eGalley