My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry was written by the author of A Man Called Ove, which was a best-seller a few years ago. Fredrik Backman’s newer book has a much catchier title, but the consensus among reviewers is that this is the only thing about it that’s better. While the book has some really good parts, that was also the consensus of several friends and myself.
There is way too much improbability right from the start. Seven-year-old Elsa has no friends except her grandmother. She gets beat up at school several times a day unless she can evade the other kids. She has read all of Dickens. Her grandmother sneaks her out of the house late at night to break into the zoo and then throws feces at the cops who are called on her.
Except for maybe the first one – and I really think that’s only from books and movies – I have not spoken to anyone who can stretch willing suspension of disbelief that far. And that’s just in the first forty pages. The meat of the book is the treasure hunt that Granny, on her deathbed, assigns to Elsa, but gives her no hints as to how to do it. That one may be the most unbelievable part of the book. Although, wait, the dog who thrives on chocolate may top that one.
But honestly, I found his writing style more irritating than anything else. It starts out cute, with things like, “as only an almost-8-year-old can” feel, say, whatever. But Mr. Backman uses that device more and more as the story progresses, and it gets even more irritating when all manner of different as-onlys are added. There might be three as-onlys in a single paragraph. I got to where whenever I read those two words, I skipped to the end of the sentence.
Then there’s the bit on page 357 that is ridiculously unbelievable: Elsa: “I want to stay with you and Lisette more often than every other weekend.” … Dad: “My darling, you can stay with us as often as you like.” Elsa: No. Only every other weekend.” …huh? My friends and I tried every way we could think of to make that make sense, but failed utterly. It’s not unusual for an author to contradict himself, though it is sloppy writing, but to contradict what he just said one line before? I don’t know how he managed to think that made sense. Or to not notice it.
What I liked about My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry was how it was all tied up at the end. I liked the way all the different characters fit together. Granny had built a fantasy world for Elsa and you see by the end how it was pretty much real. I was not surprised at that, but Mr. Backman did do a good job of slowly revealing that.
Elsa’s reaction to her grandmother’s death on page 52 is totally believable. She denies it, of course, and keeps saying things to get Granny angry so she’ll sit up and yell at Elsa. The more Granny still doesn’t stir, the harder Elsa tries. It’s very touching, possibly the best part of the book.
However, it would be unfair of me not to say one woman I know absolutely loved the book. So, who knows?