Why did it take me until December to read a Fredrik Backman book?
I think he’s just taken the top spot as my favourite author.
I feel I’ve been missing out for years, on the plus side it does mean I have back catalogue to work my through.
It’s no secret that I fell in love with A man called Ove, people then recommended My Grandmother sends her regards and apologises, I’ve just finished reading it and had to write about it straight away.
“Everyone remembers the stories their grandmother told them.
But does everyone remember their grandmother flirting with policemen? Driving illegally?
Breaking into a zoo in the middle of the night? Firing a paintball gun from a balcony in her dressing gown?
Seven-year-old Elsa does.
Some might call Elsa’s granny ‘eccentric’, or even ‘crazy’. Elsa calls her a superhero. And granny’s stories, of knights and princesses and dragons and castles, are her superpower. Because, as Elsa is starting to learn, heroes and villains don’t always exist in imaginary kingdoms; they could live just down the hallway.
As Christmas draws near, even the best superhero grandmothers may have one or two things they’d like to apologise for. And, in the process, Elsa can have some breath-taking adventures of her own . . .”
Fredrik Backman absolutely nailed this tale of an almost 8-year-old Elsa and her highly eccentric Granny.
Elsa’s only friend is her Granny, she’s bullied at school, she doesn’t fit in, her parents are divorced, she’s about to become a big sister and she’s lonely. Granny goes out of her way to make Elsa feel happy, protected and loved.
So, when Granny dies, Elsa is destroyed but Granny has one last mission for her to complete. Granny has some apologies to make, to her own daughter and the people who live in her building.
Along the way, Elsa gets to know her neighbours, learns that life is sometimes simple and sometimes complicated and that no one is entirely not a shit.
“Granny then said the real trick of life was that almost no one is entirely a shit and almost no one is entirely not a shit. The hard part of life is keeping as much on the ‘not-a-shit’ side as one can”. Fredrik Backman
It’s an accurate portrayal of grief through the eyes of a child, experiencing it for the first time with brutal honesty.
Elsa’s angry at her Granny for dying, she misses her terribly, she goes through all the emotions – fury, rage, heartbreak, hurt, jealousy of other people who knew her Granny before she did. Anyone’s who’s experienced grief will recognise that.
It’s probably not the ‘done’ thing to admit being angry at someone for dying but it is a human reaction so to see it laid out on the page with the honesty of a child was refreshing.
Elsa recognises that this loss is something that will always be with her, scarily wise and intelligent for her age, Elsa understands grief and death with alarming clarity.
“People in the real world always say, when something terrible happens, that the sadness and loss and aching pain of the heart will “lessen as time passes,” but it isn’t true. Sorrow and loss are constant, but if we all had to go through our whole lives carrying them the whole time, we wouldn’t be able to stand it. The sadness would paralyze us. So in the end we just pack it into bags and find somewhere to leave it.” Fredrik Backman
Elsa learnt so much about her Granny after she died, what she did, how she brought people together, how she helped thousands at the expense of her own family. It raises questions about sacrifice and second chances.
We often find out so much more about the people we love after they’ve died, we share stories, hear about what they were like before we knew them, we laugh, we cry and we remember, Elsa’s learning that. She’s getting to know a completely different Granny, a woman who had flaws and made mistakes but wasn’t a shit.
Much like its predecessor, it’s told with warmth and humour, Backman has the ability to make me cry and laugh in the same bloody sentence. He creates characters that stay with you long after the final page. Most importantly, he celebrates and champions difference.
Elsa is different, she’s painfully aware of that. Her Granny certainly doesn’t follow the rule book, Wolfheart has OCD, Elsa’s dad is awkward, the little boy downstairs is disabled.
Elsa’s people never tell her change who she is or that she must try harder to fit in. They go to great lengths to make sure she knows she is perfect that different is nothing to be ashamed of, she wears her difference with pride, we could all do with being a bit more Elsa.
“Only different people change the world,” Granny used to say. “No one normal has ever changed a crapping thing.” Fredrik Backman
I did find the start a little bit slow, it did take me a while to get on board with the fairy-tale element of things but as it became clear that the fairy-tales were in fact based on reality I got on board with it.
It’s a beautiful book about love and friendship, it is beautiful portrayal of grief and growing up, it’s filled with moments that will make you smile and laugh and feelings that you will recognise.
If you haven’t read any Backman books, I can’t recommend them enough – granted I’ve only read two – they are glorious, they’re about life and its complications.
I’m off to find out what happens to Britt-Marie next and continue working staying on the ‘not-a-shit’ side as much as one can.
Happy Reading x
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm