I’ve been wanting to read My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises by Fredrik Backman ever since I read (and loved!) A Man Called Ove. It sounded like an equally sweet and disarming story: a young girl reaching out on behalf of her beloved grandmother to right past wrongs. Then, around this time last year, I lost my own beloved grandmother, and I worried that this book would simply feel Too Real. So, I put it off, until now. I felt ready, and I was in the mood for something Backman-y.
This book was first published in the original Swedish (Min mormor hälsar och säger förlåt) in 2013, then it was translated into English (My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises, or in the US, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it) in 2015 by Henning Koch. The rights for translation have been sold in over 40 countries; after the success of A Man Called Ove, everyone was banking on another hit from Backman.
Once again, the story takes place in Sweden, but instead of a curmudgeonly old man, it follows seven-year-old Elsa. The young girl knows she’s different from other children, though the adults call it being “smart for her age”. Her Granny (who’s “old for her age”) is her superhero, and Elsa’s best (only) friend. Granny takes Elsa on marvellous adventures, talks their way out of trouble, and teaches Elsa how to stand up to the kids who bully her at school.
They live in a house of flats, with a large cast of quirky neighbours forming a de facto extended family. I’ve drawn you a map, because I found it quite hard to keep track for the first couple hundred pages.
When Granny dies (which I guess is kind of a spoiler, but c’mon, clearly you saw that coming) Elsa slowly learns more about the life she lived before they became friends. Granny leaves behind a series of letters for Elsa to deliver to people she has hurt or offended.
Elsa soon realises that the fantasy land Granny has been “taking” her to ever since she could remember – The Land Of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom Of Miamas where no one has to learn to “fit in” – might not be entirely imaginary. The terrifying hound hidden in the basement actually seems more like a wurse. The Monster who lives next door to the wurse might actually be Wolfheart, the hero of Miamas. She worried when Granny died that she might never get to visit The Land Of Almost-Awake ever again, but maybe she’s been living in it all along.
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises is a step above A Man Called Ove in literary terms, fusing stark Swedish realism with childhood imagination and fairy tales. While I didn’t find Elsa quite as endearing a main character as darling old Ove, she still provided a humourous and poignant insight into what might otherwise have been a very dark story.
It struck me, towards the end, that this is a much better less-pathologised version of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. Backman doesn’t stuff around trying to make Elsa’s quirks fit a specific set of diagnostic criteria. There’s nothing wrong with Elsa at all; she just likes correcting other people’s grammar, and makes full use of her active imagination.
I suspect, with the Britt Marie character’s arc, that one of Backman’s other books – Britt Marie Was Here – picks up where My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises left off. Luckily, I’ve got a copy on my to-read shelf, ready to go whenever the mood strikes. (Updated to add: I was right! Read my full review of Britt-Marie Was Here here.)
The take-home message is that you never really know someone. Everyone has hidden depths, even precocious seven-year-olds and their eccentric grandmothers. I’m grateful to Backman for the ever-timely reminder.
My favourite Amazon reviews of My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises:
- “A rather stupid grandmother with her elderly granddaughter a the central figures. The grand daughter is only seven but behaves like a grown up. Thankfully the stupid, demented grandmother dies half way through but is still remarkably central to the childish story. Harry Potter is better reading than this for an adult and so much of the story is stolen from Harry Potter.” – nigel barnard
- “One complaint to Mr. Backman directly: stop feeding literary dogs chocolate, baking mixes, cookies, and coffee. In my experience, that can only lead to bad, bad things.” – Jessie
- “I recommend this book to anyone who has a heart and a brain.” – Kindle Customer