Yes, the title is harsh. I agree. Speaking of titles, I wish this book’s title hadn’t been so intriguing, wouldn’t have read it if it had said something boring like “’Granny’s letters from Miasmas” or something equally obscure. I’ve wanted to read Fredrik Backman since I heard about A Man Called Ove. There’s a grandpa in my building who is exactly like the old man in the book and I’ve been dying to read it with mum and giggling together. Then I saw this title an forgot all about that. I must have pissed Ove off or something because this book was so disappointing!
CHARACTERS & STORY
As you have guessed from the title or the synopsis, the story follows Elsa as she goes around after her grandmother’s death, delivering letters to people that her grandmother has wronged in some way. And this sounds absolutely amazing. Look at the cover, a tiny little girl going around delivering letters with her giant dog for company after her beloved grandmother’s death is a story I was really excited to read. Alas, that isn’t the story. Atleast not all of it. Most of the story happens in this imaginary land of almost awake that her grandmother made up to entertain Elsa. And this land reads like a poor man’s Narnia. With almost nothing fun happening in it.
Elsa is a seven year old who is precocious(rude) and intelligent(a smart ass) while grandma is an eccentric(crazy) old lady who gives her grand daughter a lot more credit (she’s an irresponsible grandma) than others do. But while the grandma is batsh*t crazy she is certainly a better character to read about than Elsa. Because grandparents behaving weird is excusable, you can say they’re going senile, children behaving badly only means awful parenting and in this case awful grandparenting.
Elsa seems to be getting bullied in school and has absolutely no friends. Her only friend is her grandmother and while you feel sorry for her at first you soon realise why this is so. She is such an awful person that it makes sense why all her classmates hate her. And why her teachers talk about her the way they do. She picks fights for no reason, is disrespectful to people in positions of authority and basically acts like she knows everything in the world and everyone else in an imbecile. Not to mention that she actually behaves like a teenager instead of a seven year old. Which would make more sense because apparently she driver her grandma around at times? (WHAT? That’s not possible, I hear you say and yet, it’s there in the book.)
I know I sound like I’m condoning bullying but I’m not, I’m just saying, Elsa seems surprised that she gets bullied and you’re given the impression that people don’t like her because something is wrong with them. but later you see her provoking every single person she interacts with, constantly shouting and yelling at everyone, acting as though she knows best and getting angry when people treat her like a seven year old despite being seven years old.)
I really wanted to like this book, I wanted to like it so much that I actually pushed on reading it despite not wanting to continue after the grandmother died. And based on other reviews on goodreads that agree with me, it seems that Backman isn’t all that accomplished at writing younger characters. He seems to have a knack for older ones tough which would explain why I adored the grandma and hated the child. Yes, it;s hard to not hate this child and please god I really hope I don’t have one like this.
The writing itself though, apart from the awful story, was excellent. Backman certainly has a skill in describing and writing about older characters and in describing interactions, I just hope he keeps away from writing about children or from writing fantastical books in the future. These sorts of stories, IMO, work best without any extra fittings. With just the characters and the dreary routine of the day to day, the addition of fantastical elements, in this case, only served to destroy a perfectly tolerable story (that went from great to tolerable because of the awful main character).
I won’t be purchasing any more of Backman’s works. But I will borrow them when I can to test the waters and see if others are right in saying he writes older people well. As for this, I give it 2 stars. I really dislike when books pretend to be something other than what they are and that’s what happened here. Did I sound like I was too hard on a child? Well I was taught that respecting your elders is priority and this girl is the exact opposite. I couldn’t tolerate her, maybe you can? Go read the rave reviews on goodreads and maybe you’ll be inspired to buy this afterall.
Everyone remembers the smell of their grandmother’s house. Everyone remembers the stories their grandmother told them. But does everyone remember their grandmother flirting with policemen? Driving illegally? Breaking into a zoo in the middle of the night? Firing a paintball gun from a balcony in her dressing gown? Seven-year-old Elsa does. Some might call Elsa’s granny ‘eccentric’, or even ‘crazy’. Elsa calls her a superhero. And granny’s stories, of knights and princesses and dragons and castles, are her superpower. Because, as Elsa is starting to learn, heroes and villains don’t always exist in imaginary kingdoms; they could live just down the hallway. As Christmas draws near, even the best superhero grandmothers may have one or two things they’d like to apologise for. And, in the process, Elsa can have some breath-taking adventures of her own..