A Girl, Her Grandmother, Their Fairytale
I read Fredrik Backman’s My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises as the May selection for The Girly Book Club. If you’re a gal who loves to read and you’d like to get together with other gals in your area to read a book that the club is reading internationally, find your club here. Reviews for other GBC books can be found here and here.
Relationships are important
The key point in this book is that relationships are the cornerstone of one’s life. Don’t underestimate them and ask questions so you can build understanding about the other person. Elsa’s grandmother patiently answers all of Elsa’s questions with an honesty that is gifted to grandmothers. Their relationship is clear and strong, as Elsa is bullied at school and struggles to make sincere connections with others.
“…life saving and driving people nuts are Granny’s superpowers. Which perhaps makes her a bit of a dysfunctional superhero.” (pg 3)
Granny is the catalyst to everything in this tale. She’s the true protagonist (and possibly antagonist, depending on which character’s point of view you take). Elsa and her Granny get into all sorts of troublesome situations, which I personally enjoyed. I loved that Granny would do what she pleased, even go so far as to fling poop at police. She protects Elsa in her way, using her super powers of story-telling and detail to weave an alternate reality for Elsa. This alternate reality is called the Land-of-Almost-Awake. It is a reflection of reality: elaborate kingdoms, citizens that are tangled up in wars, royals that rule the lands.
As a knight in the Land-of-Almost-Awake, Elsa is required to take on missions and complete them. Her grandmother conjures the most detailed quests for Elsa, putting her utmost faith in her ability to complete them. Elsa, curious about the meaning of the missions, takes them on due to her knightly pride. She is a knight of the Land-of-Almost-Awake and she will not forsake her duty. Plus, her only friend in the world (her grandmother) is trusting her to complete them, regardless of how hard they may seem to an almost eight year old.
“You’re not a little kid Elsa. You always say I should treat you like a grown-up. So stop answering me like a little kid. Why do you fight?” (pg 61)
Wanting to be treated like an adult is one of Elsa’s most endearing traits. What child doesn’t want to be a part of the adult conversation? To have their voice heard and their opinion respected as part of the decision making process? I was like Elsa as a child. I loved listening to adult conversation, trying to navigate what they were talking about, enjoying listening to different points of view and deciding which camp I fell into. Blessed to have a mother who would indulge in my quest for knowledge, my questions were answered. Had I also been blessed with internet at the time, Wikipedia would have been my best friend as well. However, my tool is the dictionary. I loved looking up words to figure out a new context, a new piece to the word puzzle.
As with all good things, they must come to an end. It is fairly clear from the beginning of the story that Elsa is going to experience her own loss and coming of age. Elsa is set to go on the greatest scavenger hunt of them all while dealing with the new emotions of grief, loss, anger and forgiveness. She sets out on her journey to deliver the first letter, along with Granny’s regards and apology.
Elsa’s Granny is the best schemer of all time. She has taught Elsa that everything has meaning, even if she doesn’t understand it right now. In order to have no fear during that time of ambiguity, Granny sends her on this journey to meet people that she’s been living around her whole life but doesn’t know who they are. As she delivers letter after letter, Elsa discovers people. She discovers their messiness, stories, and love. As each of the surface level characters are taken to a depth of 1000 feet, it is apparent that Elsa is meant to come of age with a community that has been encouraged to circle her with what love they can give.
Elsa is experiences love from the adults closest to her – her mother and Granny. However, she’s the subject of the bully’s attention at school. If you haven’t ever been bullied or witnessed it, the account that is in this novel is a fairly accurate one. You learn to run, quickly. Learn to avoid certain places at certain times. Perpetuate the fear outside of the bullying environment. Being bullied results in being hyper-aware and distrustful of people. Elsa is keenly aware of her predicament and wants to have friends her own age, to feel the friendly love that familial love cannot provide. Outside of your immediate circle, it is an incredible blessing in life is to receive love. Friends love you for who you are, who you are becoming and, most importantly, they grow with you.
Through Granny’s letter delivery quest, Elsa begins to realize that she has an ability to connect with people. Her interpersonal skills aren’t always on point but what almost eight year old has refined that super power? Elsa begins to cultivate the respect that her neighbours had for her Granny, sometimes changing it into love for herself, as she worked through her grief. This mature little girl receives love in so many ways: people taking the time to drive her, hearing the content of the letters, saving her from bullies, accompanying her on walks. It was an impressive coming together of the characters from the Land-of-Almost-Awake. As Elsa discovers each of them as their characters, she has an automatic connection with them. After all, the master tale spinner has been helping her to understand them in fairy tale form for most of her life.
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes is a book that takes the reader through the Land-of-Almost-Awake and drowns them in the theme of humanity, particularly relationships. Elsa’s story picks up steam with the final quest, this book is an impressively simple read that is slow to start. Start to finish this one!
(PS I picked up the British version and loved it. Reading it with an accent and learning some new vocabulary was fun!)