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Art and Culture

Likely Stories: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

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Magical relationship between a woman and her granddaughter in Stockholm.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

I enjoy books suggested by club members at our annual summer meeting.  However, on those rare occasions I have a problem, I ignore the “Rule of 50” and slog on.  This time, I encountered an interesting story, but I found the point of view a bit annoying.  Fredrik Backman’s second novel, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, is another tale all together.

The novel tells the story of “seven-year-old-almost-eight” Elsa, who is precocious to the extreme.  She is close to her 77-year-old grandmother, who might politely be described as eccentric to the extreme.  Granny has constructed, through a series of stories, a mythical kingdom where everybody is different, and no one needs to be normal.  Then Granny dies.  Elsa is devastated.  The last time they speak, Granny tells Else she is a knight in the “Land-of-Almost-Awake,” and she must deliver a series of letters to a variety of individuals.  All this hides a terrible secret, which endangers Elsa.

My problem with the novel involves the narrator, who tries to speak with the voice of a 7-year-old, but, because he knows all the history, he cannot be anything but an adult.  I found this omniscient narrator to be a bit annoying.  I wish the book had been a memoir – recounted years later – by Elsa herself.

An interesting aspect of the story is the eclectic group of residents in the apartment building where Granny, Elsa, her mother, Ulrika, and her step-father, George, along with several other odd characters live.  One is called “The Monster,” who seems to be suffering from PTSD, and who has a large, fearsome dog.  Another resident is constantly drinking coffee, and another is a therapist, who suffers from agoraphobia.  Comic relief is provided by Britt-Marie, a woman who fancies herself as the manager of the building.

Backman writes, “The next morning both The Monster’s flat and the cellar storage unit are dark and empty.  George drives Elsa to school.  Mum has already gone to the hospital because, as usual, there’s some emergency going on there and it’s Mum’s job to sort out emergencies. // George talks about his protein bars the whole way.  He bought a whole box of them, he says, and now he can’t find them anywhere.  George likes talking about protein bars.  And various functional items.  Functional clothes and functional jogging shoes, for example.  George loves functions.  Elsa hopes no one ever invents protein bars with functions, because then George’s head will probably explode.  Not that Elsa would find that such a bad thing, but she imagines Mum would be upset about it, and there’d be an awful lot of cleaning.  George drops her off in the parking area after asking her one more time if she’s seen his missing protein bars.  She groans with boredom and jumps out” (111).

Now parts of this sound like a seven-year-old with the attitude of a teenager, but the overall narrator is clearly an adult.  I guess I have a soft spot for grandmothers, because I continually ignored these annoying little things.  The end of the story knots up all the ties, and I found it rather pleasing.  I can recommend Fredrik Backman’s My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.  4-1/2 stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Check out my new blog at RabbitReaderBlog.com.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!