Britt-Marie Was Here (★★★★☆)

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Fredrik Backman  *  Atria Books  *  May 3, 2016  *  336 Pages

Advanced Reader Copy provided by Amazon Vine.

Ah, Britt-Marie. She’s a woman after my own heart. When she feels out of control (and she’s been feeling that a lot lately), she scours and scours and scrubs and scrubs until her (outer) world is sparkling. The quality of her marriage has been deteriorating for years, you might even say since the beginning. But after her husband has a heart attack–and her husband’s MISTRESS is the one to tell her about it–Britt-Marie finally decides she’s had enough, and she leaves to find something new for herself.

She doesn’t have much of a plan, and she hasn’t ever been on her own (at least not technically), but she’s an ace at pulling herself together during the bad times and doing what needs to be done. So she gets a temp job as a recreation center manager in Borg, an all-but-deserted town hit hard by a major financial crisis, and ends up making a place for herself among the colorful personalities there.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Britt-Marie is, of course, quirky and curmudgeonly, but also endearing. Author Backman does a wonderful job of fleshing out Britt-Marie’s backstory, so that the reader has no problem empathizing with her. Britt-Marie’s negativity could have overwhelmed the story, but the lighter, funnier characters balance out Britt-Marie’s surliness perfectly.

I have two minor complaints. First, the story takes a while to get going. Backman spends too much time establishing Britt-Marie’s gruffness. I had a handle on her personality 50 pages in–but it took another 50 pages for the story to really begin.

My other criticism is that I think the ending got away from Backman a little bit. The story moves along beautifully for the most part, and then the last 50 pages or so are chaos. Major events are thrown into the mix, one after the other. They don’t NOT make sense, but they also don’t necessarily flow well with everything that happens before either. I felt like I was jolted out of a nice, pleasantly-paced story and suddenly thrown in to something more emotional and crazy. And then the book kind of just ends. Honestly, I wish those 50 superfluous pages in the beginning had been tacked on to the end of the book. I really could have used more explanation, and I wanted a chance to wind down from all that mayhem.

Regardless of pacing issues, though, I still loved the book. Britt-Marie is a memorable and unique character. I finished the story a couple of days ago, but I’m still thinking about her. I may be the only person on the planet who hasn’t read A Man Called Ove, but that one is definitely on my TBR list now, too.

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