Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for A Modern Family, by Helga Flatland! From the outset, I knew this was going to be a book that I loved – a book that pulls out the many intricate and meaningful narratives that are hidden within seemingly everyday lives and events.
Reading this book feels like looking into a mirror reflecting back to the world to you, but with colours, shades and minute details you had not noticed before. It is deceptively simple – on the face of it, it is the story of three siblings processing the news that their parents (who are just approaching their seventies) have decided to divorce. The novel’s eloquent power lies in the different narratives and perspectives that are woven together, through the family’s three siblings: Liv, Ellen and Håkon. Flatland skilfully explores how the power of words and of narrative can reveal the extraordinary within ordinary lives, an ordinary family.
Liv is the eldest of the three siblings, and the only one who has gone on to get married and have children of her own. I loved Liv’s narrative for this position she occupies as both a daughter and a mother – she feels she has two ‘families’, the one she has come from and the one that she has created. Liv holds the same place in the family as me, that of the eldest child, which at times she feels weighs her down with responsibility. Next we have Ellen, who is the middle sibling, but much closer in age to Liv than their brother Håkon – which comes to feel very significant in the family dynamics. I absolutely loved the touching and honest exploration of their relationship as sisters (shout out to my own sister, Hannah!). Ellen is going through a difficult time in her life, as she desperately wishes to have children of her own. And finally there is Håkon, who is the youngest sibling – longed for by his parents and born with a heart condition, he is very much the baby of the family.
Through alternating narratives, we hear the three siblings remember the same moments and incidents differently – which so cleverly and sensitively gives us insight into their characters and the way they are processing this change. The way they recount the news and their memories of the past are moulded by their personalities, their pasts, their position within the family and their lives that are continuing on around them. What is not said in each narrative is also hugely significant. This is a family for whom words have, until now, always been able to provide a toolkit for navigating their emotions and lives. Suddenly faced with something they can’t seem to discuss, they find (as we do as readers) that what is not mentioned, what is left out, can hold just as much significance as the words we choose.
The insights into character and psyche in this novel are so skilful and never heavy handed – it really felt I had entered into each person’s mind. It was such a joy to find that there were elements of each narrative I connected with – it never felt like one was placed above the other. I felt a particular pull towards Ellen on this reading – her sections in particular gave me that wrenching feeling deep in my gut. But I also got the sense that I could reread this book now, in a year’s time, in ten years’ time and experience it completely differently each time – that different characters and parts of their stories would trigger those moment of tender recognition.
My lasting impression of this book will be the ease which which I devoured the characters’ stories. The writing is so smooth and understated, at the same time as including immense detail and observation. This is testament to both Flatland’s elegant writing and Rosie Hedger’s natural translation. I have always been fascinated by the skill of translation, and while I don’t know anything at all of the processes that go into it, the flow and ease of the language tells me that Hedger got it spot on.
Many thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours and Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for inviting me on this blog tour and sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
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.
Random Things Blog Tour
We’re in the middle of this fabulous blog Tour for A Modern Family, and I have been struck by how many have been as taken with this book as I have been. So do check out the other wonderful bloggers below!