My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises, by Fredrik Backman (translated by Henning Koch), tells the story of Elsa who is almost eight years old and different. The headmaster at her school tells her that she needs to fall into line in order to achieve a better fit with her peers. Her grandmother reminds her that it is only different people who change the world.
Elsa’s grandmother is almost seventy-eight years old and some people say she is mad. She used to be a doctor, a surgeon who traveled all around the world saving people’s lives in dangerous places. Now she stays at home and is Elsa’s only friend. She acts outrageously and cares little for what others think of her behaviour. She is also dying.
When Elsa’s parents divorced it was Granny who showed her how to deal with the nightmares by telling her fairy stories. Together they would travel to the six kingdoms in the Land-of-Almost-Awake where they had adventures involving cloud animals, regretters, wurses, snow-angels, dragons, princesses and knights. Elsa loves to read books, especially the Harry Potter series, but Granny’s stories were special because Elsa believed that they were hers.
When Granny knows that she is going to die she asks Elsa to complete a mission, a treasure hunt involving the delivery of letters. Elsa is to guard the castle, which is how they refer to their home, and to look after their friends. Elsa does not understand as Granny is her only friend, but they both love treasure hunts so she agrees.
What follows is the story behind the fairy tales and the person that Granny had been before she became a grandmother. Elsa comes to realise that the precious stories were not hers alone, that Granny was not as wonderful as she believed, but that superheroes do not have to be perfect.
This book should be read by every adult who is put in charge of a child. It is a reminder that the most frightening things are those which are not understood, and that understanding can only be achieved through explanation. Children notice more than adults realise, but do not see the world in adult terms. Adults attempt to protect children from things that would make the adults uncomfortable, yet fail time and again to protect children from each other.
At times, early on, I found the fairy tale elements in the story a tad obtuse and repetitive. However, as the meaning behind them was revealed the wonder of the narrative took hold. By the last quarter of the book I was immersed, enchanted and could not hold back my tears.
This is a beautiful story of flawed people and the good that can be found when one takes the time to look. It is a celebration of difference; a chance to see our imperfect world through the eyes of a very special, and perhaps not so unusual, child.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Sceptre.