Book reviews

Archive for the ‘Backman – Fredrik’ Category

Britt-Marie Was here by Fredrik Backman

I read My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman last year and loved it, so was delighted when I came across Britt-Marie Was Here.

The author takes a minor character from My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises and makes this story Britt-Marie’s own, to the point where I think this book could stand alone.

The story started with 63-year old Britt-Marie at an employment office, driving the poor girl behind the counter crazy as she tried to register for a job. It soon became clear that Britt-Marie and her philandering husband Kent had separated, and sadly, the reason why Britt-Marie wanted the job was so that if she died, someone would notice. In desperation, the girl found Brit-Marie a job as the caretaker of the Borg Community Centre, a dying town in a regional area.

Britt-Marie is socially inept and awkward. She is precise, demanding and enormously difficult for other people to deal with, but she has a good heart and wants to do the right thing by others.

Britt-Marie soon found herself coaching the Borg children’s football team, even though she had no understanding of football or why the game was so important to everyone else in town. She became friends with some of the children at a time when she needed them and they needed her, and even attracted the romantic attention of the local police officer.

I loved Britt Marie asking various characters which team they supported and why because their answers were delightful. For example, Liverpool supporters never give up because they believe they can turn anything around, no matter how bad. Aston Villa supporters chose their team because no one else has and because they have nice jerseys. It seems other teams supporters can recognise Manchester United supporters in social situations for reasons that are too unflattering to describe here.

Anyway, I loved that Britt-Marie was able to touch other people’s lives and as a result of her courage found that she had choices in her own life. My plan now is to go back to the beginning of this series and read A Man Called Ove.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman

grandmother

Well! My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman was a surprise! A delightful surprise! I’m a happier person (and full of exclamation marks!) as I express the joy of this story!*

The story starts with Elsa, a delightfully precocious seven-year old and her 77-year old granny at the police station, having been caught breaking into a zoo after her granny broke out of hospital, drove unlicensed to the zoo, then threw animal turds (Elsa’s expression, not mine) at the police officers who arrested them.

Elsa and her granny have exactly the sort of relationship which all children should be lucky enough to have with their grandparents. Granny challenges Elsa, plays with her, protects her, squabbles with her, sends her to the shops for cigarettes (oh, maybe that’s not a good example…) and tells Elsa glorious fairy tales about a kingdom called Miamas in the Land-of-Almost-Awake, where Granny and Elsa are knights and wonderful things happen.

Elsa is a child who desperately needs someone to be on her side. She is bullied ferociously at school. Her parents are divorced and her mother, a career woman who has remarried, is heavily pregnant with Elsa’s half-sibling. The neighbours in Elsa’s apartment block are the most disfunctional group imaginable, some of whom treat Elsa as an irritation who they wish would go away.

After Elsa’s Granny died, I worried about how Elsa would cope without her, but I shouldn’t have. Granny left Elsa a quest.

The quest consisted of letters to be delivered by Elsa, in a sort of treasure hunt. As Elsa finds and delivers each letter she learns more about herself, her Granny, their neighbours and the other kingdoms in the Land-of-Almost-Awake. Along the way Elsa has to negotiate through her own shadows and fight dragons, but she also finds princesses and warriors, and most importantly, a wurse. (At this point I need to urge you to read this book for yourself to find out what a wurse is, rather than doing an internet search).

There is a lot going on in this story, but by the end, everything comes together beautifully.

The edition I read was translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch. I’ve been on a roll lately with Swedish fiction and have been enjoying the quirkiness of these. I wonder if Swedish authors were influenced by being brought up on Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, as the only thing all of these books have had in common is that anything might happen!

I laughed and cried reading My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises, so it should be clear that I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

*The book isn’t full of exclamation marks. They’re all mine!

 

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