Who remembers Fredrick Backman’s My Grandmother Sends her Regards and Apologises? Anybody? Well if you do, you might remember a fun and creative dose of escapism told from the perspective of a lovable little girl called Elsa. You might remember that, while it was silly and hard to believe at times, it was told in a manner that made that understandable and even added a touch of the fairy tale to proceedings. You might remember a mix of interesting and cartoonish characters that you could really get a hold of. And you might remember a surprising story that kept you guessing right the way to end.
So how, just one novel later, have we come to the mess that is Britt-Marie Was Here? Backman’s latest is so achingly predictable that you can almost guess the end after only ten pages. The story arc is obvious as soon as you meet the protagonist. And when Britt-Marie moves to the rundown town of Borg and starts training the children’s football team, you can already feel the tiny violins playing for each of the novel’s clichéd characters.
A paragraph from my review of the last Backman book gives some kind of indication of how we got to this:
Mixing reality with fairy tale in a way that only a narrative from the perspective of a seven-year-old could, Backman’s second novel walks a tightrope between tenderness and sentimentality on almost every page. But he just about manages to stay upright. The humour, intrigue, and darker elements stop the book from ever becoming to cutesy and result in an entertaining read.
Britt-Marie Was Here is what happens when Backman falls off that tightrope. Tenderness is what he is aiming for on every page, but sentimentality and cutesiness is what he ends up with. Darkness, humour, and intrigue might have balanced out the schmaltz, but they simply don’t exist. And, rather disappointingly, if this story of a town being turned on its head had been told from the perspective of one of the child characters, it might just have made a little more sense.
Any Cop?: While Backman was surely aiming for a book which showed how new experiences and spending time with those worse off than yourself can make you a better person, what he ended up with was a novel that patronised every character in it. The polar opposite of his early successes.