BOOK REVIEW: SUNDAY HERALD: MY GRANDMOTHER SENDS HER REGARDS by FREDRIK BACKMAN

A funny-wise tale

Sheila Kumar 





My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises
Fredrik Backman
Hachette
2016, pp 342
Rs. 399

‘Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero.’

If that line isn’t enough to reel you in, ‘My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises’ has plenty of quirky characters and whimsical fairy tales which work just as well,  in this book by Fredrik Backman.

The story is of Elsa, a ‘different’ seven-year-old, a Gryffindor scarf-wearing Harry Potter fan, bullied at school, insecure about a half-sibling on the way, unaccepting of her step-father. 

And the story is also about the people in Elsa’s life, the backdrop being the Land-Of-Almost-Awake  Miamas with seven kingdoms,  and princesses and warriors and dragons guarding treasure, and of course, a Chosen One. A mix of fantasy and reality, then.


Elsa is practically brought up by her rule-breaking, chain-smoking, spelling-challenged Granny who everyone thinks of as quite mad. And Granny is where the book starts and ends. We meet her and Elsa at the police station, after they have broken Granny out of the hospital, broken into the zoo and thrown turds at the policeman trying to catch them. Because  that’s how Granny is. You find yourself smiling as much as wincing at her escapades, but there is always high adventure around her, in real life and in the tales she tells.


Much as one enjoys  Granny’s tales of Miamas, one finds oneself  myself enjoying the real people in the book more. I was happy to find out more about Granny before she was a grandmother, about good-natured stepfather George, about the gorgeous (dog? wolf? Could it be a werewolf?? Blame my confusion on all the supernatural fiction there is in this book!) wurse who basically lives on biscuits and sponge cake batter.

As far as characters go, Backman has created truly interesting characters in Elsa’s neighbours, people who have so much of a backstory that one wants to get to know them better and, at the same time, don’t really need to because the facts are actually all at hand. There is Britt-Marie who always means well and has a positive fetish for rules; Kent, who always tells you the cost of things; the dancing boy with The Syndrome; the busy woman in the black skirt that never creases; the Monster; Elsa’s father who makes a career out of being tentative. As the story goes on, they weave in and out of each other’s lives in a very appealing, albeit very neat and tidy, way.


But back to Granny - what about Granny’s regards and apologies, you ask? Well, Granny leads Elsa on a treasure hunt of letters to various people, containing both the aforementioned  regards as well as the apologies. And so, Elsa gets to know her neighbours, and applies the lessons of her imaginary world to the real world.  Lessons about being able to laugh at her fears and meet them head on, about letting go of sorrows, about gathering armies to fight battles. Also about giving presents on your birthday instead of receiving them; that’s where the saying “What do you get from someone who has everything”came from, didn’t you know?!


And while the adult reader can appreciate these little things and the morals they carry, one wonders about Elsa. There are a few times when the voice of the narrator Elsa is confused with that of the author. After all, how ‘different’, how ‘special’, how precocious, can a seven-year-old get? To carry a pen and correct grammar on supermarket signboards, to catch people cheating at a game of Monopoly, to have an existentialist discussion on death with a grief-stricken woman, to understand and frequently use the term ‘Touché’… but then, all said and done, it has been a while since I was seven, and I was definitely not a precocious seven!


Backman weaves a charming story of different kinds of relationships, of super-powers that regular people have (being universally liked, being organised, baking), of life’s ups and downs as seen through a child’s eyes. Every time Elsa connects some dots, the reader experiences a tiny squeeze of delight as well. If you like tall tales of fantastical lands, or of a different perspective to daily life, or even just something sweet on a Sunday afternoon, then this is just the book for you.


In the end, one notices that a  character gets her own story in Backman’s next book. And while I spent most of the book gritting my teeth at the character, I can’t wait to read more about her. After all, every complicated (often disliked) character deserves a happy ending...that`s what they believe in the kingdom of Miamas.


So, comparisons being odious, we won`t talk of Roald Dahl or Neil Gaiman. Because Backman`s book has its own charm.

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/564280/a-funny-wise-tale.html





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