The latest in a trio of thematically similar books by the bestselling Swedish author of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (2015), etc.
Like Backman’s debut, A Man Called Ove (2014), this latest novel features an older, very particular protagonist forced to navigate a challenging set of circumstances. Readers will remember the titular Britt-Marie as the “nag-bag” from My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. In that book, and to a greater extent in this one, Britt-Marie’s compulsive fastidiousness is explained by her tragic past and history of being neglected and diminished by those around her. Having left her husband after recognizing his faithlessness, she finds herself in Borg, a tiny, economically depressed “community built along a road.” Borg is almost Dickensian in its circumstances. Most of the town has been shut down, most of the residents have left, and the ragtag bunch remaining includes orphaned children, a criminal, a former star of the local football team (now blind), and the proprietor of the only business in town—who's in a wheelchair and also probably an alcoholic. But they are all supremely pure of heart and loving toward each other. All Borg needs to be brought back to life is for Britt-Marie to arrive and literally set about cleaning the place, transforming herself in the process. In this way, the novel feels clunky and contrived, something the earlier books narrowly avoided. Backman has always played fast and loose with internal logic; without the smart pacing displayed in his previous books, the problem is more glaring here.
Fans of Backman’s style or of the metaphoric powers of football will enjoy what this novel has to offer, but it needed to simmer longer.