A Modern Family by Helga Flatland Orenda Books June 21st 2019
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…
Parents are supposed to be our constant, they brought us into the world, they nurtured and then let us fly out into the big wide world. We often think our parents are invincible, nothing could ever happen to upset the status quo, but what if suddenly, they were divorcing, no longer able to stay together? What happens to those grown up children? Would it be just another blip, all part of a modern world or would it be something more, something unimaginable, something that would open up little fractures, that grew to huge chasms upsetting the family dynamic?
A Modern Family based itself on those questions, as Flatland observed, investigated and presented us with Liv, Ellen and Hakon, the grown up children, all different, all affected but to varying degrees.
It was their voices that pulsated loudly, that had me clinging on to every word, as she immersed me in her perfect and powerful characterisations.
Liv, the eldest, the one the other two were supposed to look upto, yet Flatland made her seem childish, at times selfish that her parents, her security blanket had been pulled from under her. Her need to control, her need for certainty was a huge loss and you could sense her frustration and indeed your own frustration, your impatience with her, as you willed her to get a grip, to stop behaving like a spoilt child and to basically grow up!
Ellen, the middle child, seemed more matter of fact, stronger, able to deal yet she hid her own secrets, her own insecurities, an indefatigable facade no one could penetrate. Those secrets felt like they drowned out her parents divorce, a mere sideline to her own troubles and discontent. I felt somehow more connected to Ellen, had more empathy, wished she would let her guard down, share her problems and let herself be helped.
Hakon, the youngest was the longed for last child, the cossetted spoilt one, the one I found the most complex. He held strong opinions, his perspective on life, on relationships so brilliantly portrayed by Flatland. You sensed his naivety, his unwillingness to look beyond his parents marriage and divorce as a simple fact of life and you knew that when his fall came it would be the hardest.
What you could not get away from was the sheer quality of Flatland’s narrative, so many layers, so much emotion and feeling packed into the pages. Her exploration of the children’s differing perspectives was for me the best part of the novel. I loved how she made us feel so many differing emotions for her characters, how she laid bare their innermost thoughts, their, at times, irrationality, how they reverted back to the young children they once were, stamping their feet when they couldn’t have what they wanted.
I would loved to have seen their parents perspectives, how they viewed their children’s actions and behaviour, did they think them selfish, unreasonable.
The only way I could think to describe A Modern Family was a bit like an earthquake, one big eruption followed by small rippling aftershocks that left behind fault lines in need of repair.
What you could say about A Modern Family was how utterly brilliant it was. The PR blurb compared Flatland to Anne Tyler, but I wouldn’t do that as she is one on her own, one at the top of a pile of contemporary fiction. I didn’t just love this novel, I adored it and I definitely want more, so I hope Orenda Books are listening!
I would like to thank Orenda Books for a copy of A Modern Family to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
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.