Maybe I haven’t been looking in quite the right places, but it seems to me that I’ve missed hearing any sort of hype for Fredrik Backman’s book, My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologies. To put it simply, this is a complete travesty. Having now read this book, I can confirm it is an absolute treat to read, and I am eagerly on the hunt to acquire more of his works.
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologies follows seven year old Elsa. Elsa’s grandmother is a superhero; or at least, that’s how she views her best friend, the woman who tells her the most amazing stories and saves her from the realities childhood. When Elsa’s grandmother leaves her a treasure hunt in the form of letters apologising to people in her life, Elsa must face her fears to complete the mission. What follows is a touching, magical novel which brings the power of storytelling to life.
Right from the start of this novel I could tell it was going to be a completely unique reading experience. The beginning is very comedic, establishing the relationship between Elsa and her seventy year old grandmother in vibrant detail. For example, we find the pair sat in prison, accused of breaking into a zoo and proceeding to fling poo at a police officer. It’s not exactly your average granny antics which we read about, but the hilarity is actually combined with a grandmother figure many of us can relate to. Despite her crazy views and deeds, Elsa’s grandmother cares more than anything for her granddaughter, even if this is not always apparent (cue seven year old driving the car so the grandmother can eat!) Wanting to erase her granddaughter’s bad memories with good ones is all she desires, albeit in a rather extreme way.
Even though this book focuses upon such a young child, it is completely suited and intended for an adult audience. There are many themes which touch upon so many relevant topics within society. Granny herself is not afraid to voice her opinions of what she sees as a ‘politically correct society’. In one instance, she passes comment on the shapely behind of a young male doctor, and proceeds to rant about the differences between ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘basic appreciation of a perfectly splendid arse’ (p. 15).bIn no way is she afraid of the consequences of her actions, and I think through her character we as readers can catch glimpses of what such liberation would feel like.
Now, whilst the grandmother may be a pivotal character within the novel, she is by no means the be all and end all. The characterisation within this book is superb. Both Else, her mother, and her grandmother live within the same apartment, with the residents holding regular meetings. Because of these living arrangements, we quickly see the impact each character has on the others, and gather a very good sense of each individual. There was not one character which I think was executed poorly, even the ones I did not necessarily like as people, which I think is a testament to the skill with which they have been written, as well as the diversity the author is capable of creating. Not only are we given distinctive characterisation, but we are given something which is extremely reflective of people and the link between their personalities and the stories they hold of their past.
A big part of this novel is preoccupied with the world which the grandmother has created for Elsa, telling her stories as she grows about the kingdoms within the Land-of-Almost-Awake. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this when it was introduced, but it was pulled off to perfection. The author has been very clever in this creative land, carefully tying in the fairytales of this Land and their greater meanings for Elsa in the outside world. Elsa herself comes to realise that the ‘stories have another dimension’ (p. 37), and it is extremely touching to experience the way Elsa’s grandmother has planned for these tales to help Elsa in real life. Likewise, the bond between the pair is so heartfelt, with them even having their own ‘special’ language. Although this is not in Elsa’s first person narrative, we do get a brilliant insight into a child’s perspective, and the imagination which reigns so richly within this is truly a homage to the potential of fairytales.
Critically, Fredrick Backman is a very skilled and capable writer. There is something very familial about the way in which he writes, bringing the reader into his stories effortlessly, capturing our hearts along the way. He writes about such emotion, yet manages to keep a mystery at the heart of his work, all whilst having great literary skill. The book is translated from the Swedish by Henning koch, and although I am no expert, I think it has been very well done. I also liked the way in which the author makes use of metafiction, with many allusions to the importance of things such as the Harry Potter series.
Nothing I say is going to be able to do justice to this quiet, heartfelt, yet grand book. If there is one thing I was truly impressed with, it was the utter control the author had over this plot, ensuring every story we were told slotted in perfectly with each other, whilst remaining wholly organic. It shows the importance which stories hold within our lives, and the way that we all hold completely unique stories within our own selves, both present and past. It is a perfect blend of imagination and reality, highlighting the common ground between them. It really is reality masquerading as a fairyale.