One Last Time by Helga Flatland (tr. by Rosie Hedger) #Extract #BlogTour

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.

With all of Helga Flatland’s trademark humour, razor-sharp wit and deep empathy, One Last Time examines the great dramas that can be found in ordinary lives, asks the questions that matter to us all – and ultimately celebrates the resilience of the human spirit, in an exquisite, enchantingly beautiful novel that urges us to treasure and rethink … everything.

For fans of Elena Ferrante, Maggie O’Farrell, Mike Gayle, Joanna Cannon, Sally Rooney and Carol Shields.

I'm delighted to be sharing an extract from One Last Time today but must apologise to Helga Flatland and Orenda Books; I'd hoped to also review the book but my Dad died in April and a novel about a parent with terminal cancer is still too raw. I did the first few chapters and the writing is beautiful so I will definitely return to it when the time is right. Many thanks to Helga, Orenda and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for the extract and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

Mia has landed a job with a production company while she takes extra study credits, earning her own money for the first time in her life – the momentous discovery of economic freedom has propelled her need for independence. She arrives on Sunday morning, the previous day’s make-up smudged beneath her eyes, wearing a pair of jogging bottoms she’s borrowed from someone or other, too unflattering and far too baggy to belong to one of her female friends. She takes a seat at the kitchen table and helps herself to the bacon I’ve made for Viljar and Aslak. It takes all my strength not to tell her that I wasn’t counting on her being here for breakfast. 

It must be nice having a grown-up daughter when you’re still so young yourself, you must be like friends, my own friends have said to me on more than one occasion. I’ve agreed with them, definitely nice, really nice to be a young mother to a daughter Mia’s age, yes, it is a bit like being friends, definitely. But I don’t want to be Mia’s friend in any way, shape or form. I don’t need to know where she spent last night, for example, not as long as she seems happy in herself. Mia, for her part, is still working out where the line is, occasionally she shares uncomfortably intimate details with me about her newly discovered and constantly expanding adulthood, while other weeks she’s silent and stand-offish with me. I want her to be able to tell me anything, I thought to myself when she was a child, that’s the sort of mother I want to be, and to remain, but in practice a line has appeared when it comes to Mia. 

She looks happy, she looks like Jens, like him and him alone, as she fortunately laughs at one of Aslak’s many jokes. He’s trying too hard; I hope he’s able to strike a balance. I’ve witnessed numerous situations over the past few months, Aslak so happy and hyped up at any interaction between them, the fleeting moments of attention that Mia has graced him with, that he crosses a line only Mia and I can see, and then she unexpectedly utters some condescending comment, in the worst case involving Jens, as if it were coincidental. 

Throughout her upbringing, Aslak has been the one to have meaningful conversations with her about Jens, and to be asked the most questions about him. You can’t say things like that, Aslak told me when Mia was six years old and wanted to include Jens in a picture of the three of us. She wondered what colour his hair was, I shrugged, said she could decide for herself. She was confused, of course, looked to Aslak. He’s got the same colour hair as you, he said. And the same colour eyes, he added hastily, without looking at me. She doesn’t need to know every little thing about him, I remarked later. She’s going to find out what she wants to know about him sooner or later, and I don’t want to be the one standing in the way of that, Aslak replied. His approach worked well until Jens moved to Oslo, until he came and cast Aslak and me in a different light, gave her something to compare us against. 

The change is vague and irrefutable, I can’t find the words to articulate it, but neither do I dare pushing her further towards Jens, and both Aslak and I find ourselves unwillingly tiptoeing around her. It drives me mad, a fire rages within me, fuelled by a thousand comments and bellowed requests for her to turn her music down, to clean the bathroom as we agreed she would, to let us know if she’s coming home for dinner, not to throw coloured socks in with a white wash, not to forgive him, not to idolise him, not to disappear in him. 

The past year has offered an uncomfortable taste of what life will be like when she moves out. I've felt myself struggling to breathe whenever I think about it – that she should be so far from me, and that I’ll be left to discover what Aslak and I are without her. 

‘Did you manage to get through to Grandma?’ Mia asks as Aslak and I clear the table, she’s sitting on the bench with her legs tucked up beneath her. 

‘No, I’ll call her later, but it’s nothing to worry about,’ I say. 

‘Sure,’ Mia replies, ‘but I’m the sort of person who can’t help but worry.’ 

‘Oh, you are, are you?’ I reply, chuckling.

‘Oh, whatever,’ Mia replies, ‘you know what I mean.’ 

We’ve had this conversation many times before, I can’t help but remark on the need that she and her entire generation has to assert their own characteristics and personality traits. I’m a very empathetic person, a young girl who turned up in my office with a broken arm said to me once. I nodded as I looked at her arm, unaware of the context. Hmm, yes, is that hard for you, I replied, unsure. Not really, she replied breezily, things just hit me hard, if you know what I mean. I see, I replied, sending her off for an x-ray. T here’s something uncomfortable about being told what I should think about you, I’ve tried explaining to Mia. It fell on deaf ears. It’s more uncomfortable having someone see you the wrong way, she replied with a shrug, and perhaps she’s right. 

One Last Time is published by Orenda Books, it is out now in ebook and will be available in paperback from 24th June. I
t can be purchased from the Orenda websiteBookshop.orgHiveWaterstones and Amazon or order from your favourite independent bookshop.

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

About the Author
Helga Flatland is 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. A Modern Family marked Helga’s first English publication when it was released in 2019, achieving exceptional critical acclaim and sales, and leading to Helga being dubbed the ‘Norwegian Anne Tyler’. One Last Time is her second book to be translated into English (by Rosie Hedger), and published in 2021.

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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