Originally published: 21 June 2019
Author: Helga Flatland (Translated by Rosie Hedger)
Published by: Orenda Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Length: 276 pages
Reading dates: 16-21 June 2019
When grown up siblings, Liv, Ellen and Håkon, their partners and children join their parents in Rome for their father’s 70th birthday celebrations, they are alarmed to discover their parents are going to divorce after 40 years of marriage.
Shocked and disbelieving, the siblings try to come to terms with this announcement, and the narrative continues from the point of view of each sibling as life continues with this new state of affairs.
“We’ve talked in through again and again, tried to find some sort of solution, but it’s quite simple, when it comes down to it: we’ve grown apart”, she says.
Suddenly Ellen doubles up. Her laughter sounds genuine.
“Grown apart? Future? Seriously, you’re seventy years old!”
The quote above isn’t directly as it reads in the book but I thought it was a good way to illustrate how the siblings deal with the news. As far as they are concerned, they see little point in their parents splitting up…surely their lives at the age of 70 are practically over and they should make do with their lives!
As I said, the book is told from the point of view of each sibling (although we hear from Liv and Ellen the most). Liv is the oldest daughter and is married with two children. Ellen is the next eldest and is in a relationship with Simen and they are trying desperately for a baby. Håkon is the youngest, being born 10 years after his sisters and is still single, preferring just to have “friends” rather than relationships. The narratives overlap slightly at times, so we hear about the same events from different voices but the story also moves along as life continues and everyone comes to terms with the announcement.
The study of family dynamics was fascinating – everyone feeling they didn’t quite belong. Liv and Ellen have a typically sisterly relationship, sometimes close but sometimes in competition. Håkon feels like the odd one out being much younger (and male.) The insecurities and tension within sibling relationships was so well played out. And their relationship with their parents is also convincing.
The book captures the siblings individual personalities so well and although I didn’t warm to any of them particularly, it was Ellen whose narrative really tugged at my heart with her desperation for a child.
It also made me think – to consider how I’d feel if my parents announced their divorce and how that would effect me as a grown up with a family of my own (my parents divorced when I was a child which is a very different situation). I think it would certainly change the family dynamics but also my relationship with my parents, something I don’t think the parents in this book have considered.
The translation was excellent and I was totally engrossed in everybody’s feelings. There are no twists and turns, but that’s OK. A family drama with exquisite writing which is a well developed character study, this is a must for fans of Anne Tyler.
Many thanks to Karen at Orenda for sending me a copy and to Anne Cater for inviting me on the blog tour. Be sure to checkout the other stops below…
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.