First things first: I’m currently participating in the Unread Shelf Project 2018, hosted by Whitney at @theunreadshelf. This post reflects on the July Challenge, but you can look back at all the posts here!
The July Challenge for The Unread Shelf Project was to “finish that series!” I don’t usually read series — the only series I’m in the middle of is Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries and in that case middle is a generous term. (I still have eleven of the twelve books to go..) So I decided to interpret the challenge as “finish that collection” and for me that meant read the last Fredrick Backman book that I own but haven’t read yet – My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.
Author: Fredrik Backman
Published: June 16, 2015
FLW Rating: 3/5
I’m just going to be up front about it – This book didn’t totally work for me. I’m not sure if it was me, or the book, or the timing and the circumstance, but this book felt flat for the first 300 pages, and finished with a big finish that still left me a little unsatisfied.
Fredrick Backman is (still) hands down a favorite author of mine. When I met him last month, he told me personally (while signing my copies of Us Against You and A Man Called Ove), that My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry is his personal favorite of his own books. I wanted to love it and run off in to the sunset with my feelings towards this author’s work, but I just can’t. However, I still plan to read Britt Marie was Here, and I plan to like it… and I’m here to tell you why.
My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry is a story about Elsa, her crazy grandmother, his unconventional family, and her quirky set of neighbors. Elsa is an eight year old girl who likes to describe herself as “different”, and struggles repeatedly with bullies at school. Her grandmother is Elsa’s only friend and helps her escape reality by introducing her to an imaginary world called “The-Land-of-Almost-Awake”. But when her grandmother dies somewhat unexpectedly, Elsa is left with nothing but unexplained sadness and a letter she must deliver to a particular person. This letter takes her on a journey to discover the personalities and personal histories of those around her, leading her to make one big decision.
When we spoke, Backman said that he felt offended when people disliked Elsa — and I didn’t dislike Elsa but I think the faults I found with the book, stem from the book being narrated by an eight year old.
Throughout the book, I struggled to find consistency in her voice, which made identifying the tone and rhythm of the book more difficult. Particularly early on, there were moments of extreme sadness in the middle of an otherwise comedic story, and the surprise I felt at the change in tone pulled me out of the story more than it pulled me in to the characters. As I reflect on this, I noticed that this is somewhat typical of Backman’s books – to counter extreme sadness with an element of humor or hope, but it just didn’t work for me in this case.
Similarly, I found that I was having a hard time following all of the characters. Again, with Elsa being eight, not only was she learning along with the reader, but she just wasn’t the best story teller. She also used names, nicknames, and descriptions interchangably which felt very on brand for the character, but confused me as the reader. My advice for you reading this book: There was one page in which Elsa ran through who everyone in her building was – bookmark that page. I didn’t, and the rest of the book I spent wondering how people were connected. Serious suggestion for if this book gets reprinted – PUT A MAP OF THE UNITS IN THE FRONT OF THE BOOK. Again, having many characters seems typical in Backman’s work, but it just didn’t quite work here.
Once I made my way through the confusion, I did truly enjoy the plot. I think this book embodies the spirit of young adventure we all had as kids. I used to love scavenger hunts and this book certainly felt like I was back in the game! I mean really, is there a more satisfying arch than that? The end, as is the case in all good scavenger hunts, was both rewarding and eventful as well. It was action packed and full of emotion. While I wish Backman had spread those elements out over the course of the book, at least the book wasn’t completely lacking the action I was searching for.
One more thing – I liked that while this book was about Elsa, it also wasn’t about Elsa at all. It was about all what Elsa came to understand about those around her, including her mother, grandmother, and one very complicated chracter – Britt Marie. Which brings me back to my intro – despite not loving this book, I am so excited to read another book about Britt Marie. To me, she felt like the understated point of this book, and I’m excited to see how Backman develops her in another book.
Overall, I think this book would make a fantastic movie. Putting faces to names would immensely help with the issue of losing track of the characters, and following Elsa around on her journey would bring me a lot of joy on the big screen. If you’re ready to enjoy the journey, I would definitely recommend this book, but take me as an example and don’t read it when all you really want to do is re-read your favorite police procedural.