A Modern Family by Helga Flatland (tr. by Rosie Hedger) #BookReview #BlogTour

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…

It's my pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for A Modern Family by Helga Flatland (tr. by Rosie Hedger) today. Many thanks to the author, Orenda Books and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my digital copy of the novel.

It was the American film producer, Robert Evans who said, "There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently." and this is something which becomes a central theme to Helga Flatland's A Modern Family. When Liv, Ellen and Håkon learn at their father's seventieth birthday celebrations that their parents have decided to divorce, it throws each of their lives off kilter. They are forced to reassess all that they thought they knew and believed in light of the shocking news but each of them does so through their own lens and it's this which makes the novel such a fascinating read.
The story is primarily narrated by the alternative perspectives of the two sisters, Liv and Ellen, with the final part of the book written from their younger brother, Håkon's point of view. Their parents' split becomes the catalyst for an intense period of reflection which is noticeably self-obsessed; for the most part, they are more concerned with how the news affects them than what it means to the two people who have parted after many years of marriage.
Liv is the eldest and believes that her position as the first-born had meant that she is the one expected to be most responsible. Despite not physically resembling her mother, she often unwittingly shares many of her traits, particularly their need to assert their control over the lives of their offspring. Liv is highly sensitive to her Mum's critical words and yet often mirrors them in her interactions with her own children, especially her teenage son. Although she considers her relationship with Ellen to be close, it is clear that there is still an underlying tension to their interactions. She was once deeply envious of her younger sister's figure and although her marriage to Olaf allowed her to let go of some of that resentment, she still can't resist making comparisons between their lives. Marriage is central to her sense of control and order, she sees it as a framework and although she admits her envy of her sister's freedom, she also has a tendency to pity and patronise her.
Meanwhile, Ellen often recounts similar moments in both their current lives and their shared histories but as her recollections are personal to her, so the same events are seen to play out differently according to whoever is doing the telling. She is equally as concerned with her place in their birth order and is convinced that as the middle child she was forced to become the most independent, with more attention given to her older and younger siblings. She is convinced that in seeking less validation and credit, she has received less than the others. Her own life also comes to a crisis point during the course of the novel with her burning desire to have a baby perhaps an unconscious need to feel important - or more crucially, to have her importance acknowledged by others.
Both Liv and Ellen think that Håkon benefitted most from parental attention as the much-wanted youngest sibling who was eventually born with a hole in his heart. They both consider him spoilt and believe as a consequence he is rather immature for his age. Whether that is true is again questionable; he is clearly a highly intelligent, deeply sensitive individual and it is he who who realises that his moving out is as much a crucial moment to his parents as it is to him. He feels indignant to have been the one who had to apply this final blow when his sisters were able to escape without worrying about his parents suddenly left in their empty house. He rejects marriage as a societal straitjacket but his initially rational response to his parents' divorce as an entirely understandable development is sorely tested by a surprising revelation of his own.
In a purely dramatic sense, little really happens in A Modern Family and yet is perfectly encapsulates what much of real life is really about. We are all guilty of being unreliable narrators who live rather insular lives and despite caring about others, it is undeniably true that it is how we are individually affected by events which consumes most of our thoughts.  A Modern Family is not comforting but it is beautifully written - credit must also go here to Rosie Hedger's translation  - and as a result this introspective look at the complexities of family ties is a profoundly insightful read.

A Modern Family is published in the UK by Orenda Books, it is available now as an ebook and in paperback on 13th June 2019. Purchasing links can be found here.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

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.

About the Translator
Rosie Hedger was born in Scotland and completed her MA (Hons) in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She has lived and worked in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and now lives in York where she works as a freelance translator. Rosie was a candidate in the British Center for Literary Translation’s mentoring scheme for Norwegian in 2012, mentored by Don Bartlett.
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