A Modern Family by Helga Flatland

A Modern Family

I’m used to my Scandi books being of the noir variety, especially from publisher Orenda Books. A Modern Family however is definitely not noir.

The Blurb

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…”

Quietly devastating

Flatland effortlessly captures everything that makes a family, every nuance, every insight, every dynamic and wraps it up in the most beautiful of prose. So beautiful that I knew I was in love by page 5. This isn’t a plot driven novel. The divorce of parents Sverre and Torill is quickly delivered and then, almost brushed aside. Something Sverre and Torill seem keen to do.

Delivered through the eyes of adult children Liv, Ellen and Håkon, we never actually get to see things from Sverre or Torill’s point of view. Is there more than meets the eye to their conscious uncoupling? Is one of them secretly pining for a reunion? Whereas they appear, outwardly at least, content with their decision, the effects of this bombshell on family members are quietly devastating.

Grief, anguish and an apology

Eldest daughter Liv seems to take the news worst. We follow her as her seemingly perfect life of husband and two children spirals out of control. Her grief becoming all consuming. When the perspective changes to Ellen, I almost wanted to skip ahead to Liv’s next section as I didn’t want to leave her on such a knifes edge. Instead Ellen whisks you off in an different direction entirely, only briefly mentioning Liv in passing. Before you know it you are swept up in Ellen’s anguish only to all too soon return to Liv. Which leaves you longing for more of Ellen’s story.

I loved how Flatland didn’t fall in to the trap of trying to tie it all up too neatly. The book is so true to life, that to give everyone a clear beginning, middle and end would have jarred. Sometimes you were only given little hints about how a character was doing via other people’s perspectives. The reader being left to make their own assumptions. Sometimes we left a character knowing they were not OK. Yet it was perfect for the book.

I do need to apologise to Flatland here as my review simply does not match her writing. Instead I will just say Flatland nails it. With every sentence, every chapter and every character.

Better than Anne Tyler

Flatland has apparently been billed as the Norwegian Anne Tyler. I’ve read Tyler and taking nothing away from her, Flatland is better. This is the best book I’ve read from Orenda Books, in fact it’s one of the best books I have read all year.

My thanks go to Orenda Books via Anne Cater’s Random Things Tours for providing me with this blinder of a book in return for an honest review. It’s bloody fabulous.

A Modern Family by Helga Flatland
A Modern Family