Wednesday, 10 February 2016

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises

Author: Fredrik Backman
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 340 pages
Publisher: Sceptre
First Published: June 4, 2015
First Line: "Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero."

Book Description from GoodReads: 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 ...

Heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure, the new novel by the author of the internationally bestselling phenomenon A Man Called Ove will charm and delight anyone who has ever had a grandmother.  

My Review:  After listening to A Man Called Ove this past summer and adoring it I knew picking up this new book by the same author was a no-brainer.  Once again Backman brings some unique characters and some of his signature humour to a new story.

Reading this book I had a roller coaster of feelings. First, I loved that Backman's latest book has his sense of humour and truly quirky characters.  But as I kept reading I wasn't sure that I liked all the references to this mystical, magical land that Grandma had invented for Elsa, The Land of Almost Awake.  It seemed like a lot of detail and the farther into the story I went, the more messy and jumbled it felt as I tried to keep track of the make believe land and what was happening in Elsa's real world.  At some points the Land of Almost Awake seemed to take over Elsa's story and I wasn't a fan. 

I kept reading and luckily things started to come together in the second half of the book and I began to see where Backman was going with this fairy tale theme.  I still think there was a bit too much 'story within the story' but once I finished reading the book I realized just how much work it must have been to weave and intertwine so many different stories with a gaggle of unique characters and I had more respect for Backman's process.

Grandma was my favourite character.  Obviously.  She's smart, hilarious, has made mistakes in her long life and loves her granddaughter Elsa more than a wurse loves chocolate.  Her spunkiness and love are very reminiscent of my own Nana who could throw out some great sass when she wanted and her booming voice told others that if they wanted to mess with her grandchildren they'd better think again.  This is also Elsa's grandmother to a tee.  I love that Backman brought this relationship to the forefront in this book because there's nothing like a grandparent's love for their grandchild.

I found it a little hard to get behind Elsa as a main character.  She's a lonely kid who has a lot more knowledge and wicked word use in her wee head than any 'almost 8 year old' that I have ever come across.  I think that Backman perhaps should have made her a little older because the way she handled her self and how she spoke didn't ring true for a child of that age.  She was almost unbearably too precocious for a lot of the book.  But once you suspend belief and accept that Elsa is an extraordinarily smart child then things go a little smoother. 

I enjoyed the modern references present throughout the book including Harry Potter (Elsa's got taste!), Star Wars, knights, swords and many fantastical creatures.  But it's not all fairy tales and Muggle bashing here.  Backman tackles some serious issues such as loss, fitting in, regrets, making amends, family history, the importance of being different and just generally a nice person.  Lessons we could all learn.

"There is nothing wrong with being different. Granny said that only different people change the world." -- spoken by almost 8-year old, Elsa

"Granny and Elsa used to watch the evening news together. Now and then Elsa would ask Granny why grown-ups were always doing such idiotic things to each other. Granny usually answered that it was because grown-ups were generally people, and people are generally shits. Elsa countered that grown-ups were also responsible for a lot of good things in between all the idiocy – space exploration, the UN, vaccines and cheese slicers, for instance. 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.” 

Overall, this was a good read but not quite as funny or touching as Man Called Ove but still worth the read.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

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