Review: ‘A Modern Family’, by Helga Flatland

The Norwegian Anne Tyler makes her English debut in a
beautiful, bittersweet novel of regret, relationships and rare
psychological insights…


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

My Review

Thanks to Anne and Karen at Orenda for organising the blog tour and sending me a copy of the book.

A Modern Family is told through the shifting perspectives of Liv, Ellen and Hagan. The impact of their parents’ announcement has a profound impact on how each of the characters see themselves and each other, shifting their sense of place and familial centre of gravity. Their feelings about the change in their parents’ relationship bring their own relationships into focus and strain the relationships between the siblings.

I found this novel moving, challenging and fascinating. With the changing perspectives, we see the way each character imagines their relationships to be, the way they think the others feel, and the actual feelings of the other siblings. I hurt for them, because they’re in so much pain.

The writing is elegant and emotive, the characters springing into life and the descriptions of Italy and then Norway are rich and evocative. Honestly, made me consider an holiday by the Med and I’m not a big fan of touristy places. There are moments of humour, and times when I wanted to slap Liv and Ellen for being so self-unaware. And their mother. The urge to yell ‘Just talk to each other, you dopes.’ was very strong.

Also, I think they might be auties but that could just be my reading of the characters.


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.

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