Britt Marie is a nag bag….
Those aren’t my words; they aren’t hers really.
For those who aren’t aware; Britt Marie made an appearance in Fredrick Backman’s ‘My Grandmother sends her regards and apologises’, that’s where the ‘nag bag’ name comes from.
At the end of that book, Britt Marie has walked out on Kent after 40 years of marriage. She has no idea where she’s going, she has no plan but she’s off. Britt Marie was here picks up on that journey.
What a journey it is.
I’ve learnt now that any book by Fredrick Backman is going to make me laugh and it is – at some point – going to make me cry.
Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention. But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realises.
Armed with her balcony boxes….Britt Marie is taking control of her own life for the first time.
It quickly transpires Kent has cheated and taken her for granted for years. She’s put him and his children before herself and taken his many, many put downs. She hasn’t worked in years; she’s spent her adult life cooking and cleaning obsessively. She’s now wondering what it was all for.
“One morning you wake up with more life behind you than in front of you, not being able to understand how it’s happened.” Fredrick Backman
Despite her determination, Britt Marie pines for her old life, well, her balcony more than anything. It’s clear her new life is going to take some adjusting to.
First on her list, is find a job.
Her reasoning for finding a job had me in tears. Britt Marie wants to feel useful, she’s fearful that now she’s left everything and everyone she knows behind that no one will know she exits.
“If you can be heard then you exist.” Fredrick Backman
She’s terrified of dying and laying undiscovered for days or weeks; she can’t stand the thought of someone having to clean up the mess for a start. Britt Marie feels that if she at least has a job to show up for, someone will raise the alarm if she suddenly disappears.
It’s such a simple a statement but can’t we all relate to that? No one wants to die alone, no one wants to be forgotten.
The job she accepts sees her arrive in Borg. A small town in the back of beyond that has had better days.
It’s been hit hard by recession, there’s no jobs, everything is being shut down, including the recreation centre she’s tasked with being caretaker of.
To add to her horror, she ends up in charge of a group of kids who strong arm her into running their football team, something she knows nothing about.
It soon becomes clear; Britt Marie needs Borg and Borg needs her.
There are setbacks, she’s unwavering in her desire to do things as they should be done – lists, cleaning, her refusal to use any cleaning product other than Faxin – but Britt Marie soon begins to open up.
Yeah, you’ve probably guessed that she’s completely OCD. This woman cleans constantly, is a stickler for the rules, she’s always removing imaginary fluff off clothing and smoothing out crinkles. What Backman does here though, is give us more of her backstory and pinpoints where her OCD started. Readers don’t get that in ‘My Grandmother….’ Elsa just describes her as a ‘nag bag’ and I completely could see why an eight-year-old would think that.
In a strange way, Britt Marie finds her place in Borg, a place most people would and do avoid. She builds a friendship with ‘Somebody’, she catches the eye of the local policeman and cares for the kids, particularly Vega and Omar and their older brother Sammi who’s trying to raise them.
They’re all teaching her to live and how to survive even under some of the most tragic and desperate of circumstances. She even learns to love football and understands why everyone in Borg is so in love with it and treats it like a religion.
“Soccer forces life to move on. There’s always a new match. A new season. There’s always a dream that everything can get better. It’s a game of wonders.” Fredrick Backman
You don’t need to have read ‘My grandmother sends her regards and apologises’ before reading ‘Britt Marie was here’, it works as a stand-alone story.
I wasn’t sure I’d like this as much as the other Backman books I’d read but I was bowled over by it.
Here’s a woman, in her sixties, learning to live for herself, learning to forgive herself, standing up for herself and making her own decisions. There were so many options open to her by the end, I couldn’t be sure which one she’d ultimately pick. The moment I thought ‘this is what she’ll do’ she surprised me completely.
It is beautiful, funny tale of second chances, new beginnings, unlikely friendships, heart ache, love and passion
“All passion is childish. It’s banal and naive. It’s nothing we learn; it’s instinctive, and so it overwhelms us. Overturns us. It bears us away in a flood. All other emotions belong to the earth, but passion inhabits the universe.
That is the reason why passion is worth something, not for what it gives us but for what it demands we risk. Our dignity.” Fredrick Backman
Fredrick Backman’s books have all left a mark on me. He puts characters who might often be viewed by society as ‘odd’ at the centre of the tale and that is a masterstroke. Backman champions difference and creates characters you’ll love and always remember.
READ THEM ALL!!!
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm