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My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry: A Novel - Fredrik Backman

This is a cute book about a lonely little girl who loses her grandmother but bonds with other people in her life. It has many moments of charm and humor, but it’s also inconsistent and goes on too long.

Elsa is a precocious almost-eight-year-old whose best and only friend is her grandmother, an eccentric retired surgeon who drives everyone crazy. Except for Elsa, who lives in her grandmother’s fairy tales of the Land-of-Almost-Awake. When the grandmother dies, she sets Elsa the task of delivering letters to the other tenants of their building as a way of creating bonds between them. (One wonders why the grandmother didn’t just take Elsa to see these people more often if that was so important to her; they’re all neighbors who go way back and yet Elsa doesn’t even know that several of these folks are related to each other?) The book was originally written in Swedish, but it does not read like a translation; there are very few indications of the setting, which but for a couple of hints might be anywhere in the modern first world.

At any rate, this is a sweet story, and one can’t help but like Elsa and her crazy family. It is a quick read with lots of dialogue. It is also sometimes funny, whether in the grandmother’s escapades or the wacky comparisons: “Dad is spectacularly bad at dancing; he looks like a very large bear that has just got up and realizes its foot has gone to sleep.”

And yet, I did not love it as I initially thought I might. Some of the heartwarming moments are a little too cliché, and the story goes on too long without enough plot to sustain it. It bogs down in the middle, and a lot of time is spent repeating the grandmother’s fairy tales, which I could have done without. My copy is 370 pages; a leaner, snappier under-300 version might have gotten 4 stars from me.

Then too, there were inconsistencies that threw me out of the story. In one scene, the grandmother compares smoking bans to apartheid, and Elsa immediately researches apartheid on her phone and lectures her grandmother on how smoking bans are nothing like that, because that’s the kind of child Elsa is. But in another scene, Elsa conflates “terrorist” and “therapist,” referring to a neighbor as a “terropist” who probably does something with bombs. This is wildly out-of-character for a kid who constantly corrects other people’s spelling and word usage. Then there is the young guy whom Elsa thinks of as a “summer-intern policeman” because he seems too young for his job – but Elsa is 7, and at that age, no adult looks too young for responsibility; 20 is positively ancient.

Overall then, this is fine summer reading, cute and a bit fluffy. I basically enjoyed reading it, but it’s not one I’ll run around recommending.