Britt-Marie is the invisible woman. She’s been that way for most of her life, and her greatest fear is that she will die alone with her body undiscovered for days. Organizing, cleaning, and tending to others is the way Britt-Marie makes herself matter to those she cares about—and, hopefully, make herself visible to them.
All of which has turned Britt-Marie into an eccentric, with ingrained habits and a life that would strike most of us as stifling and unimaginably dull. But she finds security and comfort in her routines and, like so many people, will change only when it is thrust upon her. So when Britt-Marie realizes life with her husband has become intolerable—change is her only option.
The narrative highlights children who grow up without the support they need. Britt-Marie herself was robbed of her parents by a family tragedy while the children she becomes involved with are growing up without schools, supervision, a thriving community, and sometimes without parents due to the slew of problems that come with poverty.
Sent to the town by an employment agency, one socially inept woman’s reluctant rebirth plays out against the grim backdrop of a town that has been eviscerated by the global financial crisis and left to bleed to death. As Britt-Marie unwittingly restarts a soccer team (without even knowing what soccer is) and takes it to a local championship she also creates a renaissance in the town itself by instilling hope and empowering the youngest of the town’s inhabitants to achieve the status of serious competitors in a sport they loved.
The quirky characters are intriguing and engaging although some of their verbal eccentricities threaten to become annoying, and the author resists the temptation to make the characters two dimensional. Britt-Marie’s husband turns up midway through the story just as it looks as if Britt-Marie is entertaining the idea of accepting the awkward advances of one of the town’s inhabitants. At first he seems like a two dimensional overly controlling bully, but turns out to be far more sympathetic than expected.
Backman is careful not to treat the backdrop with unrealistic sentimentality; the town’s rebirth is accompanied by tragedy in a way that continues to illustrate one of the most far reaching outcomes of poverty.
Britt-Marie faces a difficult choice between her husband and the comfort of her old life and her new suitor and the less comfortable new life in a town that is desperate for any success it can manage. Her choice, in the end, is inevitable.
Cara Kless Cara spent 10 years as a Library Reader’s Advisor in between performing with a belly dance troupe and teaching dance classes. She prefers Swinburne to Shelley, Faulkner to Hemingway, and can be found on most rainy days curled up with a good book and a cup of earl gray, hot.