My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises Fredrik Backman Hachette 2016, pp 342 Rs. 399
seven-year-old deserves a superhero.’
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.
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,
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
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
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.
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?!
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
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.
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.
comparisons being odious, we won`t talk of Roald Dahl or Neil Gaiman. Because
Backman`s book has its own charm.