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…
Hi and welcome to my stop on this Random Things Blog Tour for A Modern Family! First of all, many thanks to Anne Cater for the invitation and to Orenda Books for the e-copy!
To be perfectly honest, this is a book that I probably wouldn’t have picked up, if it hadn’t been published by Orenda Books. Odds are I would have dismissed it, thinking: nope, not my cup of tea, hard pass, I have thrillers to read! But over the last year or so, I have been picking up Orenda titles left right and centre, and not one of them let me down, regardless of genre. In fact, I have found myself falling in love with books in genres that I never thought I would enjoy so much, let alone adore. So now I’m at a point where I just accept anything Orenda Books throws at me, and I was thanking my lucky stars for that all throughout A Modern Family, because it was just that good! So today, I’m delighted to share my review with you!
A normal Norwegian family goes on holiday to Rome, courtesy of Sverre, the paterfamilias who is on the brink of turning seventy. A broken family returns.
Sverre and his wife Torill have three grown-up children, Liv, Ellen and Håkon. Liv has a family of her own, a husband and two children. Ellen is in a committed relationship. Håkon is single. The siblings are a tight-knit bunch, and they’re also close to their parents. But then Sverre announces that there’s to be a divorce, that he and his wife have grown apart, there’s nothing to look forward to anymore. Sverre and Torill think that that’s it, their decision, their lives. Neither has foreseen the impact on their family. And so, while a perfectly normal family went to Italy, a royally messed-up family returns.
With their parental unit in pieces, Liv and Ellen seem to have lost themselves too.
Liv is questioning her life, her marriage, her role as a mother, every single choice she’s ever made, and every little thing she does and thinks. I strongly related to Liv because I recognised a lot of myself in her. She doesn’t cope well with change, it throws her off, and she needs a minute (or a month) to regroup.
Ellen is desperately trying to get pregnant, losing herself, and estranging her boyfriend in the process. I have very little in common with Ellen, but this storyline broke my heart, there are some very poignant passages in there that made me all weepy.
Along the way, these sisters, who have a rocky past, but were always able to find each other again, somehow lose each other too. No more chitchat, no more easy banter. At this point in their lives when they need each other more than ever before, they can’t reach out to each other, they’ve become strangers.
The chapters alternate between Liv and Ellen while their brother remains a bit of an enigma until very late in the book, when we finally get to find out what his take is on all of this.
A Modern Family is an exploration of sibling relationships, which, as an only child, fascinate me. Having never experienced in the flesh what it is to have or to be a sibling, it’s a relationship that will always remain somewhat mysterious to me. However, I think that readers who do have siblings will enjoy this aspect of A Modern Family just as much as I have, with the difference that it will feel very familiar and recognisable to them, as much as it is foreign and exotic to me.
This is a compelling character study in terms of our relationship with our parents as well. No matter how old we are, our parents are the pillars of our family. They are the breeding grounds from which we stem. Even if they’re the worst parents ever, they still determine who we are, even if it is by making us reach for the complete opposite. So what happens when this unit, this foundation, this base of our personalities and own relationships falters, crumbles, ceases to exist? What happens to us, the children, adult though we may be? This is the question that A Modern Family explores, but not in an overly heavy way. As such I feel that the magic of A Modern Family is in the eye of the beholder, in the mind of the reader. This is a novel that can be taken at face value, a quick, light tale about an ordinary family. However, there is so much going on just below the surface, if the reader is willing to dig a little deeper, to a sublayer where A Modern Family is thought-provoking and invites you to look at your own relationships, be it with your parents, your siblings, your partners, and at you as a daughter or son, as a sister or brother, as a partner, as a person.
I knew very early on that this would be either a four-star or a five-star read. For me, it’s usually the finale that determines whether or not to add that extra star. And I have to admit, I didn’t really know what to make of that finale. It was rather abrupt and I felt utterly bereft, I was not ready for this tale to end. Afterwards I asked myself the question: what would you have happen instead, what ending would you have preferred? And frankly, I couldn’t answer that question. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised that the ending was totally in line with the story, and actually kind of perfect. To have it any other way would have felt forced. And so I stand by the statement I was making all through the second half of A Modern Family: I wouldn’t change a word, not a single one. I want to quote so many gorgeous sentences that got to me, but in doing so I would be giving away pieces of the plot, so I’ll tell you this instead: for the love of books and all that’s literary, please read A Modern Family!
One last shout-out to the translator, Rosie Hedger, for a job extremely well done!
Be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour: