If you're like me, you've somewhat run out of patience for bad books, or for books that just don't do it for you. You pay close attention to the quality and tone of the book from the very beginning and you can usually tell if a book is going to be worthwhile pretty early in the process. I knew this book would be worth it from the very beginning. This is one of the books that is completely worth the read. It's one to savor, to think about as you read it. It will touch you in unexpected ways. It is full of charm and heart. It's not complex, but it is very insightful. It's one to make you think about life. Very well done.
Sometimes a book mirrors life. So it is with this one. I found it a magical book and if you like magic just a little perhaps this one is for you. So many quotes seemed meaningful to me that I marked eight as I went. (I'm not usually one to do that but I used eight bookmarks so I could find them again.) I love Elsa, the key character, and her grandmother is a kick. You can't help laughing about and with her. There is so much in this read. Grandmother is forever telling fantasy tales to Elsa about a magical land and its residents. When she dies Elsa finds herself on a quest to deliver letters to many of her grandmother's friends and she discovers that they are the characters in those wonderful stories. A few quotes from this read:
Elsa asks her mother, "Don't people get married because they're full of love and then divorced when they run out of it?"
And, talking to a neighbor who lost her husband and two sons, the woman gives her a book that she once read to her boys. Elsa has read it but lies "because she's polite enough to know that if someone gives you a book, you owe that person the pretense that you haven't read it."
Finally, about her grandmother as Elsa talks to a man who attends her funeral, she asks it he was in love with Grandmother. He answers, "She was the love of my life, Elsa. She was the love of many men's lives. Women as well, actually." Elsa asks if he was hers. His response, "No, that was you. It was always you, dear Elsa."
Now that some time has elapsed since I read this book, I'm able to look upon it more charitably. I loved A Man Called Ove, and I think that made my expectations of this book much too high.
The two main characters-- Elsa and her grandmother-- are characters who can tug at your heartstrings. Elsa is scary smart for a seven-year-old, and at times she's very funny. Her grandmother is known for speaking her mind and doing crazy things like standing on the balcony and shooting paintball guns at passing strangers. Even though she could be very funny, I never lost sight of the fact that the old lady would be a real pain in the neck to deal with. If I represented the middle generation between these two, I'd probably be escorted briskly (and gently) to the nearest rest home. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
What I never expected was the fact that this book very quickly became a chore to read. It needed editing and tightening (beginning with the unwieldy title) because the gradual unfolding of key elements of the plot was much, much too gradual. I almost abandoned the book several times, but I just couldn't. I had to know if life was going to be happier for Elsa. So... I found Backman's book to have a great idea that was poorly executed-- and this has made me leary of reading his next book.