Monday 8 April 2019

A Modern Family by Helga Flatland @HelgaFlatland @OrendaBooks #AModernFamily - translated by @RosieHedger

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…


A Modern Family by Helga Flatland is published by Orenda Books in June.

I don't often publish book reviews so far in advance of publication date, but this is such an exquisitely crafted story, so perceptively told that I just had to start my shouting early.

Helga Flatland has created a seemingly ordinary Norwegian family; with ageing parents, three siblings and associated partners and their own children. They are on their way to Rome, for a family holiday to celebrate Sverre's 70th birthday.
It is in Rome that the three siblings; Liv, Ellen and Hakon learn that their parents' marriage is over and that they intend to divorce. I've often thought that it must be so much harder for adult children to deal with a parental divorce; it must raise so many questions, and doubts about your family.

A Modern Family is narrated in three points of view; the majority of the story is told by Liv and Ellen, with some input from Hakon toward the end. These three adults were brought up together, by the same two parents, yet their own narratives are so very different. Dealing with the fall out from their parents' announcement has made each of them think about their own relationships; with each other, with their parents and with their own extended family and friends.
Liv, Ellen and Hakon are not particularly likeable, and it's fascinating how they each concentrate on the effect of the divorce on them, hardly giving thought to their parents and how unhappy they may have been.
All of the siblings have their own memories from childhood and as they each reconstruct their experiences of childhood, it's incredibly telling that their perception of themselves, and of the rest of their family relationships are so dramatically different.

I have felt like an intruder into this family. I have felt as though they are my family, I have felt as though I am spying. Helga Flatland's slow, quiet prose is absolutely perfectly fitting for the situation. This is not an action-packed thrill of a read; it is a extremely insightful and incredibly empathic realisation of the psychology of family.

Flatland writes with an elegance that one just savours with the greatest of delight. There's also subtle humour and a shrewd and insightful examination of the psychology of family, and of loss.

A Modern Family is not just good, it is masterful. It is fresh and original, with a depth of vision that is breath taking. Expertly translated by Rosie Hedger, I have no doubt that this novel will feature in my best of the year list.

Helga Flatland ( born 16 September 1984) is a Norwegian novelist and children’s writer. 

She was born in Notodden and grew up in Flatdal.
She made her literary debut in 2010 with the novel Bli hvis du kan. Reis hvis du må, for which she was awarded the Tarjei Vesaas’ debutantpris .

The novel was the first in a trilogy, and was followed by Alle vil hjem. Ingen vil tilbake (2012) and Det finnes ingen helhet (2013). 
In 2015 she published the novel Vingebelastning, as well as the children’s book Eline får besøk. 

In 2015 Flatland was awarded the Amalie Skram Prize and Mads Wiel Nygaard’s Endowment.

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