In a recent blog post I said I was feeling anxious about the book I had started to read. Not only was it by an author I hadn’t read before, it was a work in translation and so I was in the hands of two strangers. I had loved the opening pages and was anxious that the rest of the book wouldn’t come up to my expectations. I am delighted to let you know:
I WAS WRONG!
I finished the book in the early hours of this morning and lay in bed, just hugging it to my chest, for a long time. Today I will be able to pick it up, riffle through the pages and re-read some of my favourite passages, but tomorrow it will go back to the library and I will have to read something different. I’ve been looking forward to the next book in my TBR heap for a while, but I feel a bit sorry for it now – that last book threw a long shadow.
Enough waffling. This is the book that has so occupied me for the last few days – My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises written by Fredrik Backman and translated by Henning Koch. It is the story of Elsa, who is “seven, going on eight. She knows she isn’t especially good at being seven”; her Granny, who is “seventy-seven years old, going on seventy-eight. She’s not very good at it either”, and the people who live in their block of flats. Although the time scale of the book is only a few days, the stories cover many eternities. Eternities is how time is measured in the Land-of-Almost-Awake, a land of six kingdoms that Granny started to tell Elsa about (using their secret language) when she was afraid to sleep.
Granny’s tales from the Land-of-Almost-Awake weave magically in and out of Elsa’s every day world. I’m not going to explain more here, you need to read the book and I’m not about to throw any spoilers in your way. This book made me laugh and gasp and do noisy smiles (that’s not the same as a laugh. It’s when you smile so big that a burst of joy escapes from your mouth). It also grabbed my heart and squeezed it into my throat, bringing tears to my eyes. It is not an easy book – there are lots of troubled people struggling to get through each day and some of them don’t make it to the last page – but nonetheless it is full of love and happiness which makes the darkness more bearable. The stories from the Land-of-Almost-Awake are familiar enough to be comforting, but bring their own, special magic. The people who live in Elsa’s world are painted with great skill and we care about them, even if we don’t really like some of them. And then there is Elsa; a different, difficult, bright, inquisitive, scared little girl who totally melted my heart.
I don’t want to go on at great length about My Grandmother Sends Her Regards & Apologises for fear that I will produce screeds of saccharine praise that will put you off reading this book and I would hate for you to miss out on a fabulous story. I know Christmas is months away, but I’m off to start my letter to Santa and this book will be at the top of my list. I need a copy of my own that I can go and stroke at regular intervals.