Sunday, November 27, 2022

REVIEW: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry (book) by Fredrik Backman

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry is a blend of contemporary fiction, humor, and a smidgen of fantasy. I bought my copy new.


Elsa is a smart 7-year-old who's regularly bullied at school and whose best and only friend is her grandmother. Elsa's grandmother is, to put it mildly, a handful. There is always adventure to be had when she's around, and Elsa particularly loves her stories, set in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas.

When Elsa's grandmother dies, Elsa learns that she's left her one last adventure, a series of letters that prompt her to gradually get to know the residents of her apartment building better and find out more about her grandmother's past.

I read this for a book club meeting. I liked Backman's A Man Called Ove despite myself, and I thought the same thing might happen here. However, I found that I much preferred Backman's old man protagonist over this book's child protagonist.

Everything in this was just a little too much. Elsa was keenly, unbelievably perceptive, except when the story needed her to not be. And it was obvious from the start that the Land-of-Almost-Awake stories had a basis in real life, so I got a bit tired of Backman repeatedly giving readers more of those when what I most wanted to know was what they were really about. The best part of the book was the last 50 pages, and unfortunately by that point it had worn out its welcome.

I know I was probably supposed to just accept the dog portions of the story as they were and not question any of it or think about it too much, but I couldn't help it. When it was shut up all alone in an apartment, where did it do its business? What did it eat? And speaking of eating, oh my God the stuff Elsa fed this dog. How did it survive? How did it not have diarrhea all over everywhere? The only way I could maybe have accepted it all was if it turned out that Elsa's reality was, in fact, partly fantasy - for example, if the Kingdom of Miamas were somehow a real place and the dog were truly a wurse. But that wasn't the case, and so I can only think of the wurse as a dog that was fed nothing but snacks.

Elsa was a frustrating character, and I found myself sympathizing more with her mother, who'd spent years either having to do without her mother or cleaning up after her mother's messes, and who then had to put up with a daughter who accused her of not caring about the death of her own mother. Which maybe wasn't fair since Elsa was technically seven, but whatever.

This book felt like it was trying for the same quirky and complex characters as A Man Called Ove, but without the same level of emotional believability. Britt-Marie, for example, supposedly essentially raised Elsa's mother, Ulrika, but, beyond Ulrika's sense of responsibility towards her, they didn't feel the slightest bit like surrogate mother and daughter. This was especially odd when you considered that Britt-Marie desperately wanted children. You'd think she'd have shown more of an attachment to Ulrika, and to Elsa by extension.

I know my review probably doesn't sound like it, but I don't think this was necessarily a bad book. It just didn't do anything for me that A Man Called Ove hadn't already done better.

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