by Fredrik Backman
I really wanted to like this book, because I loved Backman’s A Man Called Ove. However, this one fell a little short of my expectations.
The novel centers around seven-year-old Elsa, who is “different” (it’s never explained how she’s different, exactly, except that she’s very precocious and is ostracized and picked on at school). Her best friend in the world is her eccentric grandmother, who dies very shortly into the story. Before she dies, however, she sends Elsa on a sort of treasure hunt, the “treasure” being a series of letters Elsa must uncover and deliver to their intended recipients. Each letter has been written by Elsa’s grandmother, and each letter is an apology to the recipient for something. The entire exercise is meant to distract Elsa from the grief she will endure at losing her beloved grandmother, and also allow Elsa to get to know and understand the various residents in the converted house in which she lives. As the letters are found and delivered, Elsa does, in fact, learn much about the rag-tag people living in her building, and also about her grandmother.
It’s a convoluted story. Certainly, many of the characters are interesting, if fairly unbelievable. Elsa herself is a little unbelievable; yes, she’s wiser than her years, but to the point of hardly believable. There was something a little annoying about her that prevented me from ever getting attached to her.
A lot of the story revolves, too, around elaborate fairy tales that Elsa grew up being told by her grandmother, and the fairy tales woven into the story make it a little tedious.
One of the characters in the novel is “The Boy With the Syndrome.” He’s a boy around Elsa’s own age who lives with his mother in the building. I don’t think his name or his specific syndrome are ever stated; he’s just referred to over and over as The Boy With the Syndrome, and I found this annoying, as well.
In the end, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. It was … meh.