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***Please be aware this is a book club discussion, so there is the possibility that my review or the comments left by others will contain spoilers***
At the end of this post, I’ve listed the 6 books we read in 2017 in my order of preference. I’ve also listed my 3 favourite books that I’ve read this year that weren’t part of the book club.
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises
by Fredrik Backman
7 year old Elsa is left letters from her grandmother, apologising to all the people in her life she has wronged. This sends Elsa on quite the adventure as Elsa’s grandmother was not your average grandmother. It’s a part-fantasy/part-reality book, where you are are often transported to the imaginative world that Elsa’s grandmother created for her through epic story telling.
My Quick Review
I always say these are going to be quick reviews by me, but they never seems to be. I’m going to try my best this time. So, the first chapter of this book is quite simply one of the most beautiful beginnings to a book that I have ever read. As someone who was very close to her grandmother, it moved me immeasurably, as I imagine it would a lot of people. The author does an excellent job of illustrating the valuable closeness that exists between Elsa and her grandmother and it’s incredibly heart warming.
I like how the author intertwined philosophy throughout the book especially through the stories that the grandmother told Elsa.
As I mentioned above, Elsa’s grandmother is not your usual grandmother. A doctor who saved numerous lives during the war, a woman who never wanted to settle down with one man, a smoker, a terrible driver, a poker player not to mention an excellent story teller. She is by far the best character in it (followed by Britt-Marie), so it is with great shame that she dies so early on in the book. However, I understand why this was necessary and her character still manages to dominate the rest of the book. I loved that the grandmother was Elsa’s hero, but she is not her hero for the obvious acts of heroism in the war (in fact she’s quite cross with her grandmother with regards to that), she is her hero for much smaller reasons that are important to a 7 year old child. One of my favourite scenes with the grandmother is when they were in the headmaster’s office and Elsa’s grandmother ends up throwing a globe at the headmaster’s computer. This was a reaction to the headmaster suggesting that Elsa should take part of the blame for a boy hitting her as she had provoked him and that he had problems controlling himself. “I WAS PROVOKED” Elsa’s grandmother screams at the headmaster as she throws the globe “I COULDN’T CONTROL MYSELF”. Do you see what I mean? She is my hero too.
Moving on to my second favourite character, Britt-Marie. I wonder if she is possibly one of the most tragic characters I’ve read in a book. So desperately lonely and in need of human contact, she purposely loses her husband’s items just so he’ll say her name when he asks her where things have gone. And of her own admittance, she has become a busy-body in her life just so her presence has some effect on people even if it is a negative effect. Otherwise, she would feel like she didn’t exist and would feel an overpowering numbness. It’s so sad and it made me think about people who I know act like Britt-Marie. It made me have sympathy towards them and made me think that in the future I would act differently towards them. A book that makes you look at things differently, is a good book indeed.
Here comes my big but (I said BUT not butt thank you).
A third of the way through the book, my interest started to wane. I’m generally not a fan of fantasy. I’ve tried to get into Neil Gaiman and authors similar to him, but I always struggle. I have little patience for it and the last fantasy book I enjoyed was Alice in Wonderland when I was 9 years old. So, I found myself losing my concentration every time we visited the fantasy world of Elsa and her grandmother. Whilst, I appreciated how lovely it was that her grandmother had created this fantasy world for her and whilst I also appreciated how this fantasy helped Elsa make sense of the world and also helped her deal with issues, it just wasn’t for me. It was the weakest parts of the book and I also think it didn’t quite work in combination with the harsh realities of Elsa’s real world.
Nevertheless, I got back into the book again for the final third of the book.
In general, this book is worth the read. It is beautiful, profound and entertaining and I am not afraid to admit that it made me cry at the end (for those that have read the book I’m referring to the scenes with the Wurse).
Here are a few of my favourite quotes (oh I really didn’t do a good job of doing a quick review, did I?):
“Having a grandmother is like having an army. This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details. Even when you are wrong. Especially then, in fact”
“The Noween hates children, because children refuse to accept the Noween’s lie that time is linear. Children know that time is just an emotion, so ‘now’ is a meaningless word to them”
“Because you can be upset while you’re eating chocolate Santas. But it’s much, much, more more difficult”
“We want to be loved. Failing that, admired; failing that, feared; failing that, hated and despised. At all costs we want to stir up some sort of feeling in others. Our soul abhors a vacuum. At all costs it longs for contact”
“And Maud bakes biscuits, because when the darkness is too heavy to bear and too many things have been broken in too many ways to be fixed again, Maud doesn’t know what weapon to use if one can’t use dreams. So that’s what she does. One day at a time. One dream at a time. And one could say it’s right and one could say it’s wrong. And probably both would be right. Because life is both complicated and simple. Which is why there are biscuits”
“Because if a sufficient number of people are different, no one has to be normal”
Questions to consider
1. My Grandmother Send Her Regards and Apologises begins with the pronouncement, “Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero.” (page 1) Do you agree? Why is it so important that children have heroes? Who were your heroes when you were a child?
2. Names play a significant part in Elsa’s grandmother’s stories. How do the various kingdom and heroine names from the Land-of-Almost-Awake (Miamas, Miploris, Mimovas, Wolfheart, the Chosen One, the sea-angel, etc.) inform your understanding of Granny’s stories? Did you agree with how their real world counterparts were portrayed in the stories?
3. Elsa’s mother grew up in a nontraditional family environment. Do you think this influenced her parenting style with Elsa? In what ways?
4. Were you surprised by the ways in which each of the apartment tenants were connected to the others? Which relationship surprised you the most? Why?
5. Granny is a polarizing figure in My Grandmother Send Hers Regards and Apologises. Describe the way each of the characters reacts to her. Do you think their opinions of her are justified? Why or why not? What did you think of Granny? Do you know anyone like her?
6. Discuss the role that books, especially the Harry Potter novels, play in Elsa’s life. Why do you think Elsa relates to the Harry Potter books more than other novels? When you were growing up, were there books you particularly loved? Which ones and why?
7. What did you think of Britt-Marie when you first encountered her? Did she remind you of anyone in your life? Where do you think Britt-Marie goes at the end of the novel?
8. Elsa believes that her “teachers are wrong. [She] has no problems concentrating. She just concentrates on the right things.” (page 47) What kinds of things does Elsa concentrate on? How does this create problems for her? Do you think that Elsa is a good student? Why or why not?
9. Which of the characters in My Grandmother Send Her Regards and Apologises surprised you the most? Why?
10. Discuss Britt-Marie’s marriage to Kent. Did you think they were well suited for each other? Do you think the marriage changed Britt-Marie? How can being in a bad relationship affect someone’s personality?
11. Fairy tales can provide a way to teach children some fundamental truths about the world. How do Granny’s fairy tales help Elsa understand the world around her? What lessons does Elsa take away from the tales her Granny tells her about life in the land of Miamas?
12. When her grandmother dies, Elsa is of course sad, but she also experiences a wide range of other emotions, including anger. Can you name some of the others? Consider how the loss of a loved one can lead us to have feelings that are much more complicated than sadness.
13. In this book, as in his previous novel A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman paints a vivid portrait of the relationship between an older person nearing the end of his or her life, and a young child. What can people at the opposite ends of life learn from one another? How are the very old and the very young alike? How are they different? When you were very young, was there an elderly person who played a significant role in your life? What did you learn from them?
(Questions issued by the publisher)
January’s book is Sweatpea by C.J. Skuse. I’ll be starting the conversation for this on Monday 5th February.
A list of the new books we’ll be reading for the first half of 2018 can be found here
My order (by how much I enjoyed them) the 6 books we read in 2017 (click on title for book club discussion):
6. Hotel Alpha by Mark Watson
5. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
4. My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Blackman
3. Irresistible by Adam Alter
2. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
1.Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
My 3 favourite books that I read this year (but weren’t part of the book club):
3. My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal
2. Half the Sky: how to change the world by Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
1.The Sellout by Paul Beatty
My absolute favourite book this year was Homegoing.
See you in February!