Describing the author on the pre-publication blurb as “the Norwegian Anne Tyler” is setting the bar high since Tyler would be one of my favourite authors. It is therefore thrilling that A Modern Family totally lives up to the billing.
The story opens as the family gather on a holiday in Italy to celebrate their father’s seventy birthday. As far as the children are concerned life is as normal in the family, a little frantic, the usual rivalry in planning the trip but nothing out of the ordinary. As the meal ends and toasts are being made their Mother refuses to take part. When pressed their Father steps in and announces that they are going to divorce. The holiday and birthday celebration is thrown into disarray and we follow the consequences on everyone of impact of this decision.
A Modern Family is about one family: Mother, Father, their three children: Ellen, Liv and their much younger brother, Hakon, their partners and children. The story is told from each of the perspective child firstly Liv, then Ellen and finally Hakon. What Helga Flatland does brilliantly is delve deeply into the lives of each of the siblings, laying bare their feelings, fears, loves and exploring their role within the family as they all grew up. Their world is blow apart and the ground shift under their feet when their parents announce that they’ve grown apart and will divorce.
As she puts it “the parents could not find a way back to their lives after the children had grown up” and the divorce causes the children to re evaluate their relationships with each other as well as their partners. A wonderful portrayal of a family, their life, fulfilment or the lack of and old age. She portrays the devastating consequences on a couple trying to conceive as well as questioning how stuck society is in living conventional lives.
This is a super exploration of families that I’d urge you to read for the subtle prose, with well defined characters and a strong storyline.