I bought “My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry” because the title intrigued me and anyway, who could resist the little girl and the scarf-wearing dog on the cover?
At the start of the novel Elsa is seven and her grandmother, Elsa’s personal super-hero, is seventy-seven. The two of them are in league with one another against a world too stupid to see that being different is a gift.
In other hands, this might have degenerated into a Hallmark movie, good enough to get you through a rainy afternoon, but soon gone from your memory. In Fredrik Backman’s hands it became something truly remarkable: a new fairy tale that delivers old truths so that they taste as fresh as newly baked biscuits.
“My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry” is so good, it’s hard to know where to start when explaining just how good it is.
Should I start with the unique voice the story is told in? The beautiful simplicity of the language? The deft interweaving of the myth and fairy tale and reality?
Or perhaps I should speak about the bravery of an almost eight-year old girl in confronting grief and loss, knowing that they can’t be defeated but must not be surrendered to?
Or the way the book unearths adult truths through the eyes of a child who is smart enough to understand the importance of reading “quality literature” like “Harry Potter” and the “X-Men” to gain an understanding not only of how the world works but how it should work?
Maybe I should comment on the fact that I never once felt as if I was reading a translation (except perhaps from the writer’s imagination to mine) or that the narration was so perfect it made the words spark and flash in my mind?
In fact, none of these are the right place to start. They walk around the book rather than live in it.
I’m sure that the right place to start is how this book made me feel.
It made me want to be better than I am. It gave me hope that I can be better than I am. It gave me permission to forgive myself when I fail to be better. It reminded me that imagination is the birth-place of hope and love and bravery. Most of all, it made me want to defend the castle and take care of those I love (you’ll know what this means when you read the book).
This is one of those wonderful, perfectly formed, books that goes beyond being a beautifully crafted piece of writing to become something that has a soul of its own.
For such books there is nothing to be done except say, “Please read this”.
To tempt you to do that, here are some of my favourite quotes
“The mightiest power of death is not that it can make people die, but that it can make the people left behind want to stop living.”
“When it comes to terror, reality’s got nothing on the power of the imagination.”
“Only different people change the world,” Granny used to say. “No one normal has ever changed a crapping thing.”
“Having a grandmother is like having an army. This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details. Even when you are wrong. Especially then, in fact. A grandmother is both a sword and a shield.”
“Granny was the sort of person you brought with you when you went to war, and that was what Elsa loved about her.”
“People who have never been hunted always seem to think there’s a reason for it. ‘They wouldn’t do it without a cause, would they? You must have done something to provoke them.’ As if that was how oppression works.”