It’s official – I’m in love with my latest read.

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.

book coverEnough 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.

I’ve got a bad case of the ‘but what if?’ collywobbles.

Shelf full of booksThis morning I experienced one of those magical moments.  I picked up a new book, opened the cover and started to read.  Before I had got to the bottom of page one I was already thinking ‘I LOVE this book!’ and tuning out everything that was happening around me as I disappeared into the world of the author (sorry, family).

Now, if you are reading a book by an author you know, this can be a really comfortable and cosy place to be.  You can’t help smiling as you snuggle down, ready to follow wherever the story takes you.  You have gone with this author on satisfying story-journeys before and you trust them.  You feel safe.  You can lose yourself to the story, fall in love with the characters and feel confident that you will still be smiling (or happily sobbing) at the end of the book.

Today I don’t feel like that.  Reluctantly, I had to put my new book down and get ready for work.  I’d far rather have grabbed a coffee and carried on reading.  Instead I packed my little lunch box and headed out to the car.  All morning, while I’ve been making phone calls, answering emails and updating files, there’s been a little niggle at the back of my mind.  What if the rest of the book isn’t as good as the first pages?  What if the writer takes me on a joyous journey and then abandons me before I’m ready?  Can I trust them?  If this was a book by a writer I know and love, I would be abandoning the keyboard this afternoon and diving back into the story (and, in case you were wondering, it’s not one of the books in the pictures).  Instead I’m tapping on the keys of my laptop and feeling anxious.

Correction.  I’m feeling doubly anxious.  This isn’t just a book by an author I haven’t read before, but it’s a translated book.  That means I’m in the hands of TWO unknown entities.  They have worked well together at the beginning of the book, but what if they disagree later and it all goes horribly wrong?  Whose voice am I hearing anyway, the writer’s or the translators?  Does it matter?

I’ve heard that when someone translates the lyrics of a song they try to be true to the feeling and the meaning of the original rather than a direct translation of the words.  Is the same true with novels?  Writers place a huge amount of trust in the people who translate their books.  Unless they are fluent in more than one language, how will they know that the story being read, for example, in Italy, is the story they wanted to tell?

If I keep thinking like this I will get myself in a total tizzy and never finish that book.  Which would be a shame, because I REALLY did enjoy the first few pages.  Decision made.  I’m off to put the kettle on and settle down for a good read.  Or maybe I should just do some ironing first…