Today I am absolutely delighted to share my thoughts on One Last Time, the latest novel by Helga Flatland. I really loved reading A Modern Family and have been looking forward to reading this book. My thanks to publisher Orenda Books who provided me with a lovely advance copy for review. Here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
Anne’s diagnosis of terminal cancer shines a spotlight onto fractured relationships with her daughter and granddaughter, with surprising, heartwarming results. A moving, warmly funny novel by the Norwegian Anne Tyler.
Anne’s life is rushing to an unexpected and untimely end. But her diagnosis of terminal cancer isn’t just a shock for her and for her daughter Sigrid and granddaughter Mia it shines a spotlight onto their fractured and uncomfortable relationships.
On a spur-of-the moment trip to France the three generations of women reveal harboured secrets, long-held frustrations and suppressed desires, and learn humbling and heart-warming lessons about how life should be lived when death is so close.
With all of Helga Flatland’s trademark humour, razor-sharp wit and deep empathy, One Last Time examines the great dramas that can be found in ordinary lives, asks the questions that matter to us all and ultimately celebrates the resilience of the human spirit, in an exquisite, enchantingly beautiful novel that urges us to treasure and rethink … everything.
What I really love about Helga Flatland’s books is that she brings us a story which is both everything and nothing at the same time. She takes a situation that sadly far too many of us can identify with, and spins it into a story that is captivating, beautiful, evocative and emotional. One that leaves us feeling both sad and yet hopeful at the same time. With A Modern Family she took us through the emotional impacts of the breakdown of a marriage. With One Last Time we follow Anne and her daughter, Sigrid as they struggle to manage their difficult relationship after Anne is diagnosed with cancer.
I think that, no matter what our personal circumstances, there is something in this book that each of us can identify with. Whether it is that sense of loss happening right before your eyes, or even just the devastation of coming to terms with the cancer diagnosis, for both Anne and Sigrid, the book is so grounded in reality, so easy to understand and find empathy toward, that it simply draws you in without you even realising it. This is not a long book by any stretch, and yet it makes such an impact that it often feels much bigger than it is. And yet, despite the subject matter, this book is not maudlin, not entrenched in a world of regret, and there are moments of light breaking through the clouds overhead.
I don’t want to say too much about the story as I feel it is best left to unfold as you read, but this is a story of three generations, Anne, Sigrid and Sigrid’s daughter, Mia, all of whom find increasing difficulty with communicating with each other, especially mother to daughter. It makes the potential loss all the more tragic and yet adds something special to the tale as well. It is almost like watching them all trying to learn something about each other all over again, as well as learning more about themselves. We learn of their pasts, of what brought about the kind of separation between Sigrid and Anne, and also what is driving an invisible wedge between Sigrid and Mia. About the challenges they have faced, and those they have yet to come, but most of all, of the unconditional love they feel for each other, even if not easily expressed.
Anne and Sigrid are two beautifully crafted characters. Whilst Sigrid can, at times seem cold, you know that deep down she is struggling, not only because of what Anne is going through but because of something from her past which has been forced to the fore. I didn’t always like Sigrid, but I understood her and I wanted to see how she could overcome her own limitations. Anne was someone who I did like, even if her stoicism often bordered on stubbornness. She has a strength that was admirable, a great sense of humour, evn in her darkest hour, and an unwavering love for her family, even if she was not capable of showing it in the way Sigrid needed. The way in which Helga Flatland finally expressed it, through one simple, almost inconsequential scene was so powerful it brings tears to the eyes.
And then there is that ending. Simple, and yet so powerful. The scenes getting progressively shorter and yet packed with meaning and emotion. The narrative is so beautifully scripted, the point of view switching back and forth between Anne and Sigrid throughout the book, that we get such a clear and vivid of the characters, their lives and the worlds they inhabit. This is another stunning, simple and yet emotionally powerful read and I loved it, devouring it in one evening. Definitely 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.
About the Author
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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Books by Helga Flatland