“Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies”–Edna St. Vincent Millay
Millay’s quotation is utterly beautiful in its sentiment and is quite a fitting introduction into Fredrik Backman’s My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, which is a tale filled with the penultimate childhood element: fairy tales and the land of make-believe. But the quotation doesn’t fit the book for one rather large thing: Granny dies. Elsa is an extremely precocious and mature almost 8 year old who lives in a house split into flats with her mother, Granny, and some other families. Granny is a wild character who does what she wants when she wants; Elsa’s mother is the epitome of order and control. Elsa spends a lot of time with Granny while Elsa’s mother works, which leads to Granny sharing about the Land of Almost-Awake, its kingdoms, and inhabitants with Elsa. Before Granny dies, she sets Elsa on a treasure hunt that involves the house’s tenants and makes the stories from the Land of Almost-Awake more real to Elsa.
The book is written in an interesting manner–it’s in the third person but in a seven year old’s voice, yet not the voice of Elsa. In its abstract form, this doesn’t seem too strange; however, there were times throughout the text that the fourth wall was broken and the narrator addressed the reader, but at that point when the wall is broken, the narration changes into a more “traditionally straightforward” voice instead of the somewhat established seven year old voice, which was humorous and easy to relate to the subject matter.
I was reminded a bit of the filmic depiction of the characters in Coraline in the duplicity of each of the character’s lives–one version of them in the “real” world and one in the Land of Almost-Awake that closely aligns with their alter-ego. While the setting of the book isn’t as important as the world built within its pages as it connects with Elsa and Granny’s imagination, I was frustrated in locating where this was supposed to take place. There were many English phrases and words used throughout the text but there were many nuanced mentions that made me think that it could have taken place in a different European country.
Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.