#BookReview One Last Time by Helga Flatland @OrendaBooks @RandomTTours

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for One Last Time by Helga Flatland, translated by Rosie Hedger. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Orenda Books for my digital review copy.

One Last TimeAbout the Book

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.

Format: Paperback (276 pages)     Publisher: Orenda Books
Publication date: 24th June 2021 Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

I enjoyed Helga Flatland’s previous book, A Modern Family, for its perceptive examination of the impact on the various members of one family of an unexpected announcement. The author returns to similar territory in this book using Anne’s cancer diagnosis as the starting point for an insightful exploration of how this affects her relationships with her daughter, Sigrid, her granddaughter, Mia, and other members of her family.

In fact, the strained relationships in the family go well beyond Anne. For example, Sigrid and her daughter Mia find it difficult to communicate, principally because of the breakdown many years before of Sigrid’s relationship with Mia’s biological father, Jens. Sigrid’s relationship with her current partner, Aslak, with whom she has a young son, is also showing signs of strain.

Having praised the author’s ‘spare, precise prose’ in my review of A Modern Family, I was surprised to find the writing style quite different in this book. I confess some of the long sentences made up of multiple clauses separated by commas left me craving a full stop or semi-colon. I can only assume this was a deliberate style choice by the author intended to convey the undisciplined nature of the thoughts running through the minds of the main characters. Although it did affect my reading experience a little, it didn’t prevent me being drawn into the story which unfolds in chapters alternating between the points of view of Anne and Sigrid.

A particularly touching element of the book is Anne’s relationship with her husband Gustav, incapacitated following a series of strokes, the first of which occurred when Sigrid was young. Gustav is now in a nursing home needing round the clock care. It was also interesting to see Anne reflect on the way her diagnosis has changed her role within the family. It seems to her a curious role reversal that Sigrid and Magnus (Anne’s son) are now organizing between themselves who will look after her following her operation and treatment.

The fact that Sigrid is a doctor (a General Practitioner) provides another fascinating angle to the story. Being more aware than most of the likely outcome of her mother’s illness only seems to increase Sigrid’s sense of powerlessness. At the same time, it brings to the surface memories of her childhood when her mother’s attention was on her father not her. Whether justified or not, the forgotten birthdays, unprepared packed lunches and unlaundered school uniforms have left Sigrid with a lifelong feeling of abandonment, betrayal even. This is possibly why Sigrid invests so much of her professional time in one of her patients, a troubled young woman named Frida.

As her illness progresses, Anne’s focus becomes all about leaving behind good memories for others, things that will make her family remember her with affection. It’s partly this that provokes the trip to France, a place Anne had always planned to visit with Gustav, although I didn’t find it quite the pivotal event the blurb suggests.

One Last Time explores the unexpected events that can bring chaos and confusion to a family, exposing pre-existing strains but also potentially providing the opportunity for the healing of old wounds. It’s a powerful and emotional story told with a deft touch.

In three words: Tender, perceptive, moving

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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 (her first English translation), 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. One Last Time was published in Norway in 2020, where it topped the bestseller lists, and was shortlisted for the Norwegian Booksellers Award.

About the Translator

Rosie Hedger was born in Scotland and completed her MA (Hons) in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh, where she graduated with a distinction in Norwegian. Rosie spent a year at the University of Oslo, taking courses in Norwegian language and literature and researching for her dissertation on contemporary Norwegian fiction. Since completing her studies, Rosie has also lived in Sweden and Denmark, and is now based in the UK.

One Last Time BT Poster


#BookReview The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce #20BooksOfSummer20

TheMusicShopAbout the Book

1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need.

Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann. Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind …

Format: Hardcover (336 pages)    Publisher: Doubleday
Publication date: 13th July 2017 Genre: Fiction

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My Review

The Music Shop has been on my bookshelf ever since I heard Rachel Joyce talk about the book at Henley Literary Festival in 2017. You can read my review of the event here. Now I’ve finally read it, I’m kicking myself that it took me so long.

Set mainly in 1988, the book conjures up a vivid picture of that time – lava lamps, Ritz crackers, high street shops such and Dolcis and Tammy, using the Yellow Pages to find a tradesman. I know I’m showing my age now but I can remember browsing in record shops for the latest vinyl releases. This passage especially, as Frank takes delivery of new stock, evoked such memories.

Boxes of vinyl began to arrive the next morning. Rare original pressings, bootleg copies, white-label promotional labels, as well as entire box-set collections. Seven- and 12-inch singles in the shape of hearts, birds and hats; limited-edition releases on coloured discs in blue, red, orange, yellow, white and even multicoloured splatter. Soundtrack records, popular favourites. World music, second-hand classics, demos. Rare mono recordings, limited-edition audiophile pressings… Plain sleeves, picture sleeves. Albums with posters, fold-out flaps and signed covers.”

In the residents of Unity Street, Rachel Joyce has created a fabulous community of diverse individuals who nevertheless feel a growing sense of togetherness, especially when outside forces threaten to bring unwanted change. “Here they were, living together on Unity Street, trying to make a difference in the world, knowing they couldn’t, but still doing it anyway.

The book has a wonderful cast of secondary characters such as Maud, the owner of a tattoo parlour, Father Anthony, the owner of a religious gift shop, “Saturday” Kit who helps out in Frank’s shop, Mrs Roussos and her chihuahua…oh, and not forgetting the matchmaking waitress of The Singing Teapot.

I loved the little stories about the customers whom Frank helps with music choices, such as the man who ‘only listens to Chopin’. Frank’s uncanny ability to prescribe the music others need for their current predicament leads to some unexpected choices. My favourites were his selection of the perfect lullaby for a sleepless child and an album to rekindle a marriage that has lost his spark. In fact, I could have read a whole book of such stories.

Interspersed with events in Unity Street are Frank’s memories of his childhood growing up with his mother, Peg. Sadly for Frank, Peg lacked the conventional instincts of motherhood – “show Peg a boundary, she crashed straight through it” – but she was at least responsible for inspiring his passion for music through her wonderful stories about composers and musicians. As the reader will discover, she’s also the reason Frank cannot bear to listen to a particular piece of music. Unfortunately, Peg’s actions will come to influence Frank’s relationships with others as he grows up. “Frank was so busy loving other people he had no room to accommodate the fact that someone might turn round one day and love him back.”

Will meeting Ilse Brauchmann change things for Frank? Obviously, I’m not going to tell you but all I will say is, that if you’ve read any of Rachel Joyce’s previous books, you’ll know she has a knack for taking readers on an emotional journey. The Music Shop is no exception. I was advised by a fellow blogger who had read the book to have tissues ready at the end; they were right.

The Music Shop is just the sort of warm, uplifting story perfect for the times we’re living through. As Kit says at one point, “I can’t imagine a world without Frank”. Hallelujah to that.

In three words: Charming, funny, uplifting

Try something similar (in the spirit of Frank): In My Life: A Music Memoir by Alan Johnson

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116433648_3250124005044448_5505438321894254958_oAbout the Author

Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, The Music Shop and a collection of interlinked short stories, A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Her work has been translated into thirty-six languages.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Rachel was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012 and shortlisted for the ‘UK Author of the Year’ in 2014.

Rachel has also written over twenty original afternoon plays and adaptations of the classics for BBC Radio 4, including all the Bronte novels. She moved to writing after a long career as an actor, performing leading roles for the RSC, the National Theatre and Cheek by Jowl. She lives with her family in Gloucestershire. (Photo credit: Facebook author page)

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