The New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry “returns with this heartwarming story about a woman rediscovering herself after a personal crisis…fans of Backman will find another winner in these pages” (Publishers Weekly).
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 realizes.
When Britt-Marie walks out on her cheating husband and has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg—of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it—she finds work as the caretaker of a soon-to-be demolished recreation center. The fastidious Britt-Marie soon finds herself being drawn into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, layabouts. Most alarming of all, she’s given the impossible task of leading the supremely untalented children’s soccer team to victory. In this small town of misfits, can Britt-Marie find a place where she truly belongs?
Funny and moving, sweet and inspiring, Britt-Marie Was Here celebrates the importance of community and connection in a world that can feel isolating.
This reading group guide for Britt-Marie Was Here includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Britt-Marie is an acquired taste. It’s not that she’s judgmental, or fussy, or difficult—she just expects things to be done a certain way. She has maintained a perfectly organized life in Stockholm, Sweden, with her husband, Kent, for forty years, making sure his shirts are pressed, their apartment is spotless, and that they never run out of baking soda or her favorite brand of window cleaner. But when Britt-Marie discovers that Kent has been unfaithful and her perfectly organized life suddenly becomes perfectly disorganized, she does something bold: she leaves.
Finding herself in the backwater town of Borg, Sweden—of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it—as the caretaker of a recreation center slated for demolition, Britt-Marie is soon being challenged, surprised, and coaxed out of her comfort zone in all sorts of ways. As she discovers more about Borg and its oddball residents, she also discovers more about herself. Behind the passive-aggressive, socially awkward, pedantic busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams, and a warmer heart than anyone around her realizes. When Kent turns up on her doorstep one day, Britt-Marie must decide what she truly wants: to return to her old life, to make a new life in Borg, or to embark on an entirely different path.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. How is Britt-Marie’s character revealed by her interactions with the people in Borg? In what ways do Borg’s citizens change Britt-Marie? Use specific examples to demonstrate your point.
2. Think about the children on Borg’s soccer team: to what extent are they responsible for Britt-Marie’s growth, and how? Does one particular child have greater influence on Britt-Marie than the others? If so, who, and why?
3. Describe the book’s narrative style. How would you characterize it? How does it play into your perception of Britt-Marie, or influence your understanding of events?
4. “She has difficulties remembering the last time she said anything at all, until one day she left him without a word. Because of this it always feels like the whole thing was her fault” (page 151). Communication plays an important role in any relationship, and Britt-Marie’s reflection on her own silence raises a curious point; to what extent do you think Britt-Marie contributed to the unraveling of her and Kent’s relationship with her silence? How much blame, if any, can fall on the shoulders of only one person in these cases?
5. Britt-Marie is a curious combination of strength and assertiveness mixed with anxiety and shyness. How are these seemingly opposing qualities related to each other in Britt-Marie, like two sides of the same coin?
6. How have Britt-Marie’s experiences as a girl and a young woman made her into the woman she is at the start of the novel? Did learning about her childhood change the way you felt about her as a character? Is there a larger message here about forming judgments of people we encounter without knowing their full story?
7. When we first meet her, Britt-Marie seems to be a fairly traditional, conservative person, yet in the course of the novel she is exposed to many issues and situations that previously didn’t enter her life as Kent’s wife. Consider her reaction to Ben’s date with another boy, or her visit to a prison, or her encounter with a masked gunman. How do these moments affect Britt-Marie? What can they tell us about who she is and about the community she’s joined in Borg?
8. Despite its often humorous tone, this book touches on complicated real-world situations and issues like the economic downturn, social class, the state of the modern family, and children’s rights. What impact has the economic downturn had on Borg? Did the novel cause you to think differently about the power of individuals to have a positive impact on their communities?
9. Consider the role of soccer in this story. What does soccer represent to the citizens of Borg, particularly to the children? In a world marked by instability and uncertainty, why is this sport so important to them?
10. Throughout the book, the team that an individual supports plays a role in the way that person is perceived by others and often tells a lot about him or her. Can you think of analogous scenarios in your own life where you have made certain assumptions about a person because of something he or she is passionate about?
11. Why do you think Britt-Marie decides to call the girl from the unemployment office to tell her that one of the children on the soccer team hit what he was aiming for? What does this moment signify for Britt-Marie?
12. “What is love if it’s not loving our lovers even when they don’t deserve it” (page 283). Do you agree with this statement, or does love without limits tend to lead to a relationship like Britt-Marie and Kent’s at the start of the novel?
13. Why do you think that Kent decides to fight for Britt-Marie’s soccer pitch? Do you believe he’s really a changed man?
14. Why do you think Britt-Marie ultimately makes the choice she does at the end of the story? What was the deciding moment, the impetus for her choice?
15. Do you think Britt-Marie will ever come back to Borg?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Write an epilogue about what happens next for Britt-Marie. Share with the group, and explain why you came up with this specific set of events.
2. Have a dinner Britt-Marie would love! Look up recipes for traditional Swedish food and invite members to prepare a few dishes to share while you discuss the book. One of many sources for classic Swedish dishes can be found online at https://sweden.se/collection/classic-swedish-food.
3. Have a debate. Split into two groups: one side in favor of Kent, the other in favor of Sven. Discuss the merits of each and try to persuade the room which man is best suited for Britt-Marie.
4. Britt-Marie and Kent also appear in Fredrik Backman’s previous novel My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. Read it with your book club to learn more about their characters. You can also read Backman’s bestselling debut novel, A Man Called Ove. Consider how Ove and Britt-Marie tend to interact with other people and how they deal with difficult situations. How would you describe each of their philosophies of life? Make a list of some qualities they have in common, and of some ways in which they are very different from each other.
Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove (soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, as well as two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children. Connect with him on Twitter @BackmanLand or on Instagram @backmansk.
“Backman has written another bestseller with his latest novel. While at first Britt-Marie seems intolerable and aggravating, readers are quickly endeared to her obsessive-compulsive ways and frank honesty. At first the writing style comes off sharp; however, readers quickly see that is how Britt-Marie processes the world and it too becomes something amicable. Heartfelt and truly stirring, Britt-Marie Was Here resonates long after the last page is read.”
– RT Magazine
“The bestselling author of A MAN CALLED OVE returns with this heartwarming story about a woman rediscovering herself after personal crisis. Backman reveals Britt-Marie’s need for order….with clear, tight descriptions. Insightful and touching, this is a sweet and inspiring story about truth and transformation. Fans of Backman’s will find another winner in these pages.”
– Publishers Weekly
"Universal...Backman hits a nice note between overly sweet and hard-boiled fiction; excellent for book clubs."
– Library Journal (starred review)
"Britt-Marie’s metamorphosis from cocoon to butterfly seems all the more remarkable for the utterly discouraging environment in which it takes place."
“A brilliant mix of belly-laughs, profound insight and captivating events delivered… with Backman's pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature."
– Shelf Awareness
PRAISE FOR A MAN CALLED OVE
“A charming debut…You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life. You’ll also want to move to Scandinavia, where everything’s cuter.”
“Even the most serious reader of fiction needs light relief, and for that afternoon when all you want is charm, this is the perfect book."
– San Francisco Chronicle
"A light hearted, deeply moving novel about a grumpy but loveable curmudgeon who finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door. This quirky debut is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the impact one life has on countless others—and an absolute delight."
– CBS Local
"An inspiring affirmation of love for life and acceptance of people for their essence and individual quirks. A Man Called Ove is a perfect selection for book clubs. It's well written and replete with universal concerns. It lacks violence and profanity, is life-affirming and relationship-driven. The book is bittersweet, tender, often wickedly humorous and almost certain to elicit tears. I contentedly wept my way through a box of tissues when I first read the novel and again when I savored it for a second time.”
"A Man Called Ove is exquisite. The lyrical language is the confetti thrown liberally throughout this celebration-of-life story, adding sparkle and color to an already spectacular party. Backman's characters feel so authentic that readers will likely find analogues living in their own neighborhoods."
– Shelf Awareness (starred review)
"Readers seeking feel-good tales with a message will rave about the rantings of this solitary old man with a singular outlook. If there was an award for 'Most Charming Book of the Year,' this first novel by a Swedish blogger-turned-overnight-sensation would win hands down."
– Booklist, Starred Review
“A funny crowd-pleaser that serves up laughs to accompany a thoughtful reflection on loss and love… The author writes with winning charm.”
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This charming debut novel by Backman should find a ready audience with English-language readers… hysterically funny… wry descriptions, excellent pacing… In the contest of Most Winning Combination, it would be hard to beat grumpy Ove and his hidden,generous heart.”
– Kirkus Reviews
PRAISE FOR MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE'S SORRY
“[…] Believable and fanciful. Backman’s smooth storytelling infuses his characters with charm and wit. . . Engaging. . . A delightful story.”
– St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Every bit as churlish but lovable as Backman’s cantankerous protagonist in his debut, A Man Called Ove (2014), precocious Elsa will easily work her way into the hearts of readers who like characters with spunk to spare. A delectable homage to the power of stories to comfort and heal, Backman’s tender tale of the touching relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter is a tribute to the everlasting bonds of deep family ties.”
– Booklist (starred)
“Firmly in league with Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman. A touching, sometimes funny, often wise portrait of grief.”
– Kirkus Reviews
"In his second offering, Backman (A Man Called Ove) continues to write with the same whimsical charm and warm heart as in his debut."
– Publishers Weekly
"An eclectic cast of characters, fairy-tale wisdom, and a little mystery… one of our favorite novels of the year so far."