One Last Time by Helga Flatland

My thanks to Anne Cater and to the publisher, Orenda Books, for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. I received an ebook to read ahead of taking part, and this review forms my honest opinion.

Blurb

Anne’s diagnosis of terminal cancer shines a spotlight onto fractured relationships with her daughter and granddaughter, with surprising, heartwarming results. A moving, warmly funny novel by the Norwegian Anne Tyler.

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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.

Review

I was drawn to One Last Time as I’m interested in novels related to family dynamics, particularly concerning motherhood, and this focuses very much on the relationships between Anne, her daughter Sigrid and granddaughter, Mia.

Anne’s discovery that she has terminal cancer begins a period of awkward healing for this fractured family. Sigrid, now a doctor and living in Oslo with her partner, their son and her grown up daughter, blames her mother for an unhappy upbringing. Meanwhile, tensions are simmering between Sigrid and her daughter, Mia following the arrival of Jens, Mia’s biological father and the man who broke Sigrid’s heart by abandoning her while she was pregnant.

Told from the point of view of both Anne and Sigrid, the novel follows the course of Anne’s illness for both women, and neatly examines both sides of their story. This aspect I found the most interesting. The moments where both women would look back and replay the same scene, or mention a moment from their different perspectives, reading the emotion of the other, were a perfect example of the women’s distance from one another. I actually found it to be quite an emotional read, that this fundamental lack of understanding had driven such a divisive and long lasting wedge.

For me, it was the characters of Anne and Sigrid who compelled me to keep reading. Well constructed, flawed characters, they are the heart of the novel and it is their tentative, at times reluctant steps towards one another which form so much emotional tension throughout.

I did however feel that I wanted the novel to dive deeper and go that bit further, for although the ending was beautiful and moving in so many ways, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. That is just me however, and my preference for neatly tied up with a bow endings – clearly not a reflection on real life, which is obviously a continuing story for the ones who are left after death. I felt I finished with questions, and while answers are implied I wanted more. Perhaps I just wanted more full stop!

It’s a difficult novel to say that I ‘enjoyed’, simply because it concerns such a somber subject, and touches upon some really tough themes, some of which hit quite close to home – but I was invested throughout despite this. It’s not the easiest read in terms of the content – I actually got far too emotionally attached to the sub plot between Sigrid and her patient, Frida which runs parallel to the story (and is yet another story about motherhood playing through) – but it is an easy read in terms of everything else. It’s written with heart and love for these characters and their circumstances, and that is what shines throughout.

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