Today it is my great pleasure to wish a very happy publication day to Helga Flatland, whose book A Modern Family is released in paperback today. A big thank you to publisher Orenda Books for providing me with an advance copy for review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for including me in the tour. Before I share my thoughts, here is what the book is all about:
About the Book
When Liv, Ellen and Håkon, along with their partners and children, arrive in Rome to celebrate their father’s seventieth birthday, a quiet earthquake occurs: their parents have decided to divorce.
Shocked and disbelieving, the siblings try to come to terms with their parents’ decision as it echoes through the homes they have built for themselves, and forces them to reconstruct the shared narrative of their childhood and family history.
A bittersweet novel of regret, relationships and rare psychological insights, A Modern Family encourages us to look at the people closest to us a little more carefully, and ultimately reveals that it’s never too late for change…Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Google Play | Apple Books
I have been thinking for a week now about how I am going to write this review. I was fortunate enough, a little over a week ago to meet the author at Derby Literature Festival and to hear her speak first hand about the book itself. It gave ma a clearer understanding of what she was trying to achieve when she wrote the book, and of how well she has managed to capture that essence of a modern Norwegian family in her writing. It hasn’t helped with this review though.
Translated beautifully by Rosie Hedger, A Modern Family is both everything and nothing at the same time. If I was trying to explain to you what happens I would simply say that an extended family – parents, children and their respective families – all go on holiday to celebrate the father’s birthday. Whilst there, Mom and Dad drop somewhat of a bombshell upon the children – they are getting divorced. From here on in the story is about the aftermath. About what happens to a family when the very thing that seems to be holding it together falls apart.
But that description is very basic and doesn’t even begin to do the book justice. Mandie and I listened to the audio book of A Modern Family on route to our own holiday. Ironic, I know. No fear of this trip ending in a parental divorce though as we are (technically speaking) orphans and have been for some time. But it was a really interesting experience listening to the book together and talking about some of the things that happened both during the book and after. So many times we heard a particular sentence or paragraph and we just turned to each other and smiled, thinking, and often saying, yep – that’s us.
Helga Flatland has pulled an absolute blinder in creating a story in which nothing thrilling, shocking, suspenseful or mysterious happens, and yet as readers (or listeners) we were completely drawn in. This is such a clear and very accurate portrayal of family life that you feel as though you are a voyeur or, say, someone in your own home, watching one of those delightful fly on the wall ‘real-life’ docu-soaps that are all the rage. Only with a more genuine script. One that actually resembles real life rather than some falsified drama in order to bolster viewing figures.
The characters in the story – the children Liv, Ellen, and Håkon, and their parents – are so well fleshed out, so full of the quirks and hang ups that we recognised in everyone around us, that they felt very, very real. There is such keen psychological insight in this book that you find yourself becoming invested in their lives as though they were your own friends or family. Liv, the eldest child, feels the pressure of having to be successful and of her husband, Olaf’s, infidelity, even if it is only of the mind and not yet of body. Ellen feels the pressure of wanting so desperately to have a child with her partner and yet never being able to make it happen, but does this mean that her relationship has to fail? Younger brother Håkon feels no such pressure, determining that he will sow his oats as far and wide as possible and that a monogamous relationship is very old fashioned, but is his view tainted by his parent’s separation or something deeper rooted.
It is really hard to describe why, but I think that readers will recognise a little of themselves in each of the characters, or find something to relate to, and in doing so will want to read more. Speaking for myself, that strain of the sibling relationship, the way in which family only really pulls together when there is a crisis was very familiar. I instantly recognised the sense of separation that occurs when the parental bond has come unstuck and how easy it is to drift into very separate lives, only remembering to send good wishes on birthdays and at Christmas. Not every family tree has strong branches. Some bend, others break, and this is reflected in what happens between the three siblings. There is that sense that something still exists between them, and all is not lost, even if their dealings with one another become more fractious and strained as the months pass.
Beautifully written, full of stunning narrative, colourful imagery and very well fleshed out and perfectly drawn characters, there was something about this book which just felt right to me. So much that I identified with, some much that left me with a wry smile upon my face that I can do little more than applaud the author. She has managed to capture modern family life to a tee and, from me, and Mandie, this book comes highly recommended.
About the Author
Helga Flatland is already one of Norway’s most awarded and widely read authors. Born in Telemark, Norway, in 1984, she made her literary debut in 2010 with the novel Stay If You Can, Leave If You Must, for which she was awarded the Tarjei Vesaas’ First Book Prize.
She has written four novels and a children’s book and has won several other literary awards. Her fifth novel, A Modern Family, was published to wide acclaim in Norway in August 2017, and was a number-one bestseller. The rights have subsequently been sold across Europe and the novel has sold more than 100,000 copies.
Author Links: Twitter
About the Translator
Rosie Hedger was born in Scotland and completed her MA (Hons) in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh, where she graduated with a distinction in Norwegian. Rosie spent a year at the University of Oslo, taking courses in Norwegian language and literature and researching for her dissertation on contemporary Norwegian fiction. Since completing her studies, Rosie has also lived in Sweden and Denmark, and is now based in the UK.
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