Blog Tour/Book Review: A Modern Family by Helga Flatland

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for A Modern Family by Helga Flatland, translated by Rosie HedgerThanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the tour and to Orenda Books for my review copy.

A Modern FamilyAbout the Book

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…

Praise for A Modern Family

The most beautiful, elegant writing I’ve read in a long time. If you love Anne Tyler, you will ADORE this’ Joanna Cannon

‘Absolutely loved its quiet, insightful generosity’ Claire King

Format: Paperback, ebook (276 pp.)    Publisher: Orenda Books
Published: 21st June 2019  Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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Find A Modern Family on Goodreads

My Review

The announcement during a family celebration that their parents are to divorce after decades of marriage is not in itself the event that drives the story so much as their grown-up children’s varying reactions to this unexpected change. Described in the blurb as an ‘earthquake’, it does indeed cast light on fractures and stress points in other relationships – between the siblings and between them and their respective partners. An equally apt analogy is Liv’s observation that their decision ‘has seen consequences great and small rippling across the landscape between them like waves’.

Told from the point of view of the three children – Liv, Ellen and latterly Hakon – their responses are shaped by their different experiences, whether that’s their current domestic situation, their ‘position’ in the family hierarchy or their perception of the level of attention they received from their parents growing up. Their reactions run the full gamut of emotions: surprise, disappointment, a sense of rejection, disbelief. What one sibling sees as an unwelcome (and possibly selfish) disturbance in their life another sees as confirmation of a pre-existing belief in the nature of relationships.

The author’s spare, precise prose shines through in Rosie Hedger’s translation. Although the book includes aspects of Norwegian culture – a passion for outdoor activities, holidays spent in summer cabins – there’s nothing that would stop any reader, whatever their heritage, from identifying with the situations in which the characters find themselves.

The author skilfully explores family dynamics, including the customs, rituals and traditions that become embedded over time. For example, that each person takes their accustomed place at the table during family gatherings or that birthdays always mean pancakes for breakfast.

I also liked the structure of the book with the different viewpoints (sometimes of the same event) and that the ending had echoes of the beginning. However, I did find the characters rather self-absorbed – although I guess we all are if we’re honest. Having said that, I admired the skilful writing and the insightful exploration of family dynamics and what sustains (or doesn’t sustain) relationships.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Orenda Books.

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In three words: Insightful, acutely-observed, character-driven

Try something similar…Stories We Tell Ourselves by Sarah Francoise

Helga Author PicAbout 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.

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