Hi dear readers! It’s the end of the month, so as promised, here is my review of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, the second novel by Fredrik Backman, author also of A Man Called Ove. If I had to pick one word for my feelings about the book, it would be “frustrated”. Read on to find out why!
Quick pro tip:
You’re welcome to buy physical copies of any books through the links I’ve provided throughout this post, but I used Scribd for all of my reading. It’s a reading app that’s been described as the Netflix of books, and I LOVE it. You can read three e-books and one audiobook for $8.99/month, and the best part for me is that your monthly reads carry over for three months if, say, you have children that won’t let you read as much as you want to. You can sign up for a free 30 day trial right here. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is on there, and I will be sourcing all of my Books Of The Month from there.
Fredrik Backman is a 35-year-old Swedish writer. He writes in what I assume is Swedish, and his books are then translated to English. He wrote A Man Called Ove in 2012, and then My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry in 2013, so there wasn’t much of a break between the two books. A Man Called Ove has received a lot of praise, so I was really looking forward to reading My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry because of the hype around his first novel.
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry follows and is told from the point of view of an eccentric 7 year old, Elsa. Elsa’s only friend in the world is her grandmother, a fellow eccentric, who dies early on in the story. The book focuses on Elsa’s grief and her struggle to recover in some ways, but more on an adventure her grandmother has sent her on posthumously.
While living, Elsa’s grandmother told some real zingers of fairy tales and had created an imaginary kingdom that turns out to be an allegory for people that Elsa and her grandmother both know [knew]. The fairy tales were Elsa’s escape from the real world, where she is relentlessly bullied at school because she doesn’t fit in. After her grandmother’s death, Elsa is sent on a quest to deliver letters to people that her grandmother feels she had failed in one way or another while living.
During the course of the adventure, Elsa runs into a raging alcoholic, a giant with OCD, and an enormous dog living in its own apartment, among other interesting characters. Elsa also runs into a real-life villain, and the characters all work together to protect her.
As mentioned, Elsa was the primary character. Her grandmother is a character at the beginning, but remains a driving force throughout the book. Elsa lives with her high-achieving, career-driven mother and her stepfather, and her mother is expecting another baby; she is is concerned that when the baby comes no one will pay attention to her at all. Elsa also has a father and a stepmother; her father isn’t necessarily eccentric, but he’s certainly awkward. On the quest, Elsa meets a man who she calls “the Monster”, a giant dog, a raging alcoholic, a taxi driver, a pair of old people that always serve cookies and drink coffee, a couple in a loveless marriage, a boy with a mental disability, and that boy’s mother.
Here’s where I get uneasy about reviewing My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry. I really, really wanted to like this book, and in some ways I did, but there were many ways in which I didn’t like it.
What I Liked
The story was sweet. Elsa meets a lot of people and befriends even the outcasts. She learns a lot about her grandmother as well as her own mother, and she becomes much closer to her “family” which at the end extends to include many more people than her grandmother and parents. There is a happy ending. There’s character development; many of the characters either have information revealed about them throughout the book or actually change and develop as people. As a literature nerd, I appreciate that the fairy tales that Elsa’s grandmother told were an allegory for people in Elsa’s real life (allegories almost always delight me).
Parts of the story made me feel sad, which indicates that there was enough character development that I cared about them. Elsa’s grandmother’s passing made me cry, and I felt a lot of empathy for Elsa throughout the book. I wasn’t really bullied as a child, but I’ve always felt like I never fit in, so I could definitely relate to her.
What I Didn’t Like
Here we go…I thought there were three main problems.
Problem #1: There were too many characters.
I understand the importance within the story as a whole of having so many characters. I do. But I think that the author tried too hard to make each one complex and significant within the story. Again, I totally understand the struggle the author would have had–dreaming up all of these characters but having to pick which ones not to develop would be challenging as a writer. But taking all of these characters and trying to make each one important backfired and made the plot itself weak, which leads to…
Problem #2: It was unrealistic.
This is the biggest problem that I had with My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. I don’t mean the fairy tale part of the story; that’s not supposed to be realistic and I had no problem with that. There was more than one spot that I thought was a bit of a stretch of the imagination, but the biggest offense for me was when the actual villain of the story and his backstory is introduced. I wanted to throw my tablet and stop reading, and that’s a big deal for me; I don’t not finish books, but this was almost unforgivable in my mind. There had been characters randomly given too much importance throughout, and I was trying to bear with it, but when that villain came in, it was the last straw. The story surrounding the villain just wasn’t something that would happen in real life.
Not only was it not something that would happen in real life, but also until the introduction of the villain, the author has had these two characters (I won’t reveal which to avoid spoiling the story) just lurking in the background and hasn’t paid any notice to them at all, but suddenly Elsa is literally held at knifepoint for no reason and he [the author] throws the characters in as being important, but they’re still not properly developed. Just all of a sudden, they’re important. It just simply did not work for me as a reader. I wanted to pull my hair out.
Problem #3: I think it was a missed opportunity to provide social commentary.
Elsa is eccentric. She is bullied at school. There’s an alcoholic in the story. Elsa’s family is blended. There’s a lot of discussion of war and soldiers, with strong hints of PTSD. There’s obvious mental illness in the villain. The list goes on and on. There are tons of hot-button social issues in this book, but the author doesn’t really solidly address any of them. They’re just there.
Again, it might be that there were just too many issues, and again I certainly understand the temptation to throw them all in for character complexity, but it could have been a great chance to say, “Hey, we need to focus on bullying and what we can do to eliminate it. We need to do XYZ for soldiers with PTSD. Here’s an example of how you can help an alcoholic or someone with a mental illness.” The author passes on the opportunity to send a message, and it kind of disappointed me.
The Bottom Line
Would I Recommend My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry?
Unfortunately, I probably would not recommend it, unless you like to feel disappointed. The story is okay, but it reads like a million other stories you’ve probably read. Any plot twist included doesn’t further the story, it just frustrates the reader.
Rating Out Of Ten
4. Again, I really wanted to like My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, but it was frustrating and unrealistic. It felt like the author just came off of writing a huge book and wanted to continue his success (which was the case in reality), but he didn’t put the time into making it really great. It felt thrown together and just overdone. The scope was too broad.
I wanted to like this so much but felt so disappointed that I decided to read A Man Called Ove in an effort to give the author a second chance, and that book I definitely appreciated a lot more. In an effort to not be a jerk to Fredrick Backman, I am hoping to post a review on A Man Called Ove next week so make sure to come back for that. The author definitely has redeemed himself in my eyes, so don’t write him off because of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. He’s got mad writing skills, truly.
Did you read with me this month, or have you read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry before? What did you think? If you don’t already, be sure to follow me on Facebook for next month’s book!