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.
You would be forgiven for thinking you were heading into a crime novel as the opening scenes depicted Anne beheading her chickens. Her hurried stuffing of the carcasses into a freezer hinted at a woman with a lot on her mind who you surmised was at a crossroads in her life, a moment that would have consequences for her and her family.
Before the reasons were revealed Flatland swiftly moved to Oslo and Anne’s daughter Sigrid, a hard working GP, mother and wife. Here we had our two leading characters, whose lives Flatland proceeded to reveal in flash backs and their interactions as they navigated Anne’s slow demise.
Anne and Sigrid so different yet there were hints of similarities they perhaps never saw, or refused to acknowledge both extremely headstrong, wilful in their pursuit of what they wanted. For Sigrid, an apology for her perceived abandonment as a child, cast aside as Anne cared for her ill husband. For Anne, the desire to die on her own terms and perhaps to mend and bridge the gulf that existed between herself and Sigrid.
How they navigated the process was something Flatland did with amazing skill and sensitivity. Anne determined to be independent, to find solace in her rural surroundings yet a sense of unfinished business, to pull Sigrid close, to find a way of explaining her past actions, to find solace before she died. Flatland so beautifully showed her anguish, guilt that perhaps she would leave her mute, sick husband alone, but also anger at Sigrid’s unwillingness to let down her guard, to cede something, anything that showed they still had love and respect.
Sigrid was just as torn, her role as doctor became the armour she could hide behind, the clinical almost emotional less way she dealt with Anne’s cancer felt harsh and lacking in compassion. Flatland gradually chipped away at that armour, as we watched Sigrid’s own deteriorating relationship with daughter Mia. Would she make the same mistakes, or was there an opportunity to learn, to let Mia grow, learn, find her own way with Sigrid’s support and understanding.
At times Flatland made me frustrated, the tension that hung in the air of things left unsaid. You wanted to bash Sigrid’s and Anne’s heads together, tell them that time was short, that grudges, past mistakes should be left behind, to make the most of the time they had left. I railed against Sigrid’s need to always see the worst of her childhood, the happy moments shut away, out of sight. Her relationship with past love and father of Mia, Jen’s, an itch that needed to be scratched, unfinished business. Did she still have feelings, was her current partner enough or was there something more that she wanted. Yet Flatland showed that it was necessary for them to navigate this path, to understand and finally, hopefully reach a resolution.
You knew the ending but not how it would be and when it came it was tender, poignant hugely emotional, tissues close to hand. You left with a sense of having read an author with an acute understanding of the human psyche, of what makes us tick, of the contradictions, the complexities of family, and the intensity that often forms the basis of mother daughter relationships.
I would like to thank Orenda Books for a copy of One Last Time to read and review and to Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Helga Flatland is 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. A Modern Family marked Helga’s first English publication when it was released in 2019, achieving exceptional critical acclaim and sales, and leading to Helga being dubbed the ‘Norwegian Anne Tyler’. One Last Time is her second book to be translated into English (by Rosie Hedger), and published in 2021. Helga is (sporadically) on Twitter @HelgaFlatland.