This is the third (and a half) book I've read by Fredrik Backman. With such a long title, I can't say I would have chosen to read it, even with liking Backman, but no, I'm kidding there, I would have read it if I had known about it. Fortunately, my family knew about it and let me know about it, and it's adorable.
Imagine having a cranky old grandmother who is just awful and awesome at the same time. Now imagine being seven, almost eight, and having a mind of your own and the enviornment where you can speak it. Okay, okay, you're considered weird, and are in trouble a lot, and the school kids pick on your ALL THE F'ING TIME, but Granny!
Okay, not really.
Anyway, smart kid, dying grandmother, a mystery to solve, and a life to unfold. As kids, we don't realize that the adults around us have a history before us. Backman writes that clouded view and gives us a child's view of navigating grief and anger and life.
I enjoyed this book. The storytelling slowed me down a few times, I had to reread parts, and skipped over small parts when I was tired and figured the details would come back later when I needed them. It's a cute story, worth reading.
She shouldn’t take any notice of what those muppets think, says Granny. Because all the best people are different—look at superheroes. After all, if superpowers were normal, everyone would have them.
“Stop fussing. You sound like your mother. Do you have a lighter?”
“How long are you going to use that as an excuse?”
“Until I’m not seven anymore?”
Granny has had nine different nurses since she was admitted. Seven of these she refused to cooperate with, and two refused to cooperate with her, one of them because Granny said he had a “nice ass.” Granny insists it was a compliment to his ass, not to him, and he shouldn’t make such a fuss about it. Then Mum told Elsa to put on her headphones, but Elsa still heard their argument about the difference between “sexual harassment” and “basic appreciation of a perfectly splendid ass.”
She sits reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on the iPad for about the twelfth time. It’s the Harry Potter book she likes the least; that’s why she’s read it so few times.
It’s very difficult not to love someone who can hear you say something as horrible as that and still be on your side.
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.
Granny says people who think slowly always accuse quick thinkers of concentration problems. “Idiots can’t understand that non-idiots are done with a thought and already moving on to the next before they themselves have. That’s why idiots are always so scared and aggressive. Because nothing scares idiots more than a smart girl.”
Words I wish my granny had told me, though now that I think about it, I suspect Scott tried.
They sit there in the sort of silent eternity that only mothers and daughters can build up between themselves.
People who have never been hunted always seem to think there’s a reason for it. “They wouldn’t do it without a cause, would they? You must have done something to provoke them.” As if that’s how oppression works.
Like all hunters, shadows have one really significant weakness: they focus all their attention on the one they’re pursuing, rather than seeing their entire surroundings. The one being chased, on the other hand, devotes every scrap of attention to finding an escape route.
“Sometimes the safest place is when you flee to what seems the most dangerous,” said Granny, and then she described how the prince rode right into the darkest forest and the shadows stopped, hissing, at the edge. For not even they were sure what might be lurking inside, on the other side of the trees, and nothing scares anyone more than the unknown, which can only be known by reliance on the imagination. “When it comes to terror, reality’s got nothing on the power of the imagination,” Granny said.
All fairy stories take their life from the fact of being different. “Only different people change the world,” Granny used to say. “No one normal has ever changed a crapping thing.”
Only then does Elsa realize that it actually couldn’t have had a chance to relieve itself for several days, unless it did so inside its flat. Which she rules out because she can’t see how it could have maneuvered itself into using a toilet, and it certainly wouldn’t have crapped on the floor, because this is not the sort of thing a wurse would demean itself by doing. So she assumes that one of the wurse’s superpowers is clenching.
Because not all monsters were monsters in the beginning. Some are monsters born of sorrow.
“Because when you love someone very much, it’s difficult to learn to share her with someone else.”
“I think your grandmother functioned so well in chaotic places because she was herself chaotic. She was always amazing in the midst of a catastrophe. It was just all this, everyday life and normality, that she didn’t quite know how to handle."
The walls of the office are covered in bookshelves. Elsa has never seen so many books outside a library. She wonders if the woman in the black skirt has ever heard of an iPad.
Oh, I love libraries, personal and public.
It’s strange how quickly the significance of a certain smell can change, depending on what path it decides to take through the brain. It’s strange how close love and fear live to each other.
“Never mess with someone who has more spare time than you do,” Granny used to say. Elsa used to translate that as, “Never mess with someone who’s perky for her age.”
It’s easier to get people talking about things they dislike than things they like, Elsa has noticed. And it’s easier not to get frightened of shadows in the dark when someone is talking, whatever they’re talking about.
If you don’t like people, they can’t hurt you.
“It’s hard to help those who don’t want to help themselves.”
“Someone who wants to help himself is possibly not the one who most needs help from others,” Elsa objects.
But she doesn’t want to disappoint him, so she stays quiet. Because you hardly ever disappoint anybody if you just stay quiet.
The mightiest power of death is not that it can make people die, but that it can make the people left behind want to stop living, she thinks, without remembering where she heard that.
Death was Granny’s nemesis. That’s why she never wanted to talk about it. And that was also why she became a surgeon, to cause death as much trouble as she could.
People in the real world always say, when something terrible happens, that the sadness and loss and aching pain of the heart will “lessen as time passes,” but it isn’t true. Sorrow and loss are constant, but if we all had to go through our whole lives carrying them the whole time, we wouldn’t be able to stand it. The sadness would paralyze us. So in the end we just pack it into bags and find somewhere to leave it.
Fears are like cigarettes, said Granny: the hard thing isn’t stopping, it’s not starting.
“Sometimes it’s hard to share one’s sorrow with people one doesn’t know."
“Don’t fight with monsters, for you can become one. If you look into the abyss for long enough, the abyss looks into you.”
“Granny always said: ‘Don’t kick the shit, it’ll go all over the place!’ ”
Looks like dads do when it suddenly dawns on them that something they used to do because it was important to their daughters has now become one of those things their daughters do because it’s important to their dads. It’s a very thin line to cross. Neither dads nor their daughters ever forget when they do cross it.
She hates that Mum has secrets from her. When you know someone is keeping secrets from you it makes you feel like an idiot, and no one likes feeling like an idiot.
“Most likely they told her a whole lot of damned things she wasn’t allowed to do, for a range of different reasons. But she damned well did them all the same. A few years after she was born they were still telling girls they couldn’t vote in the bleeding elections, but now the girls do it all the same. That’s damned well how you stand up to bastards who tell you what you can and can’t do. You bloody do those things all the bloody same.”
“Why are you so horrible to each other if you’re brothers?”
“You don’t get to choose your siblings,” mutters Alf.
Bowled over by this, Elsa looks at him and waits, because she knows that only by waiting will she get him to tell the whole story. You know things like that when you’re almost eight. She waits for as long as she needs to.
It’s snowing again, and Elsa decides that even if people she likes have been shits on earlier occasions, she has to learn to carry on liking them. You’d quickly run out of people if you had to disqualify all those who at some point have been shits.
Now and then Elsa would ask Granny why grown-ups were always doing such idiotic things to each other. Granny usually answered that it was because grown-ups are generally people, and people are generally shits.
Granny then said the real trick of life was that almost no one is entirely a shit and almost no one is entirely not a shit. The hard part of life is keeping as much on the not-a-shit side as one can.
Tell him that sometimes things have to clear a space so something else can take its place.
The problem is this whole issue of heroes at the ends of fairy tales, and how they are supposed to “live happily to the end of their days.” This gets tricky, from a narrative perspective, because the people who reach the end of their days must leave others who have to live out their days without them. It is very, very difficult to be the one who has to stay behind and live without them.
A funeral can go on for weeks, because few events in life are a better opportunity to tell stories. Admittedly on the first day it’s mainly stories about sorrow and loss, but gradually as the days and nights pass, they transform into the sorts of stories that you can’t tell without bursting out laughing.
“So why are you together, then?”
“Because we accept each other as we are, perhaps.”
“And you and Mum tried to change each other?”