So today is my spot on the blog tour for this novel. I would like to begin by thanking Tara at Pushkin Press for allowing me to be a part of this tour. Grown Ups is a Norwegian book written by Marie Aubert and translated by Rosie Hedger. I received a free ARC of this book in return for an honest review, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Ida is a forty-year-old architect, single and struggling with a feeling of panic as she realises her chances of motherhood are rapidly falling away from her. She’s navigating Tinder and contemplating freezing her eggs – but tries to put a pause on these worries as she heads out to the seaside family cabin for her mother’s 65th birthday. That is, until some supposedly wonderful news from her sister sets old tensions simmering, building to an almighty clash between Ida and her sister, her
mother, and her entire family.
Exhilarating, funny, and unexpectedly devastating, Grown Ups gets up close and personal with a dysfunctional modern family.
I have never read a translated book before so I thought this would be an interesting one to try. The story sounded intriguing and once I had begun I fell into the rhythm of the writing pretty easily. It was a short book but it certainly managed to evoke some feelings within me.
It is a character driven story which I always enjoy, I love to get to know characters and the reasons why they do things. The cast are small with our main character Ida heading to her families summer cabin to celebrate her mothers birthday. She is joined by her sister Marthe and brother in law Kristoffer (with his daughter Olea) and also her Mom and her partner. Although the family are coming together to celebrate the date, there seems to be no real love lost between any of them. The family dynamic is strained and there is a river of underlying tension flowing beneath the surface of all their interactions. Especially those interactions between Ida and her sister. I myself am so close to my sister and we have a fabulous, light and breezy relationship, so to read about this hostile dynamic that these two sisters have made me feel very uncomfortable. They needle each other and always seem to want to get one up on each other whenever possible.
I was quite torn when reading this book, on the one hand I felt very sorry for Ida, throughout the story I felt her yearning and desolate need for children of her own, I felt her pain and when she thought back to periods of time in her past I could see why she made the decisions she did. However on the flip side despite her desperation and sadness a lot of the time I really didn't particularly like her very much, I found her selfish and sometimes unnecessarily vindictive. As a nearly 40 year old woman, I felt she should have been able to let some of the past go and move on towards having a better relationship with her family. I flipped between these two feelings throughout the whole of the book. I have to say when a story manages to make me feel so conflicted I think it is a sign of great writing, for a book to evoke that amount of emotion within me towards a character I have to applaud it!
On the whole I found most of the characters fairly unlikeable - Marthe with her whiny nature, Kristoffer with his arrogance and the mother who seemed to want to stroke Marthes ego constantly. I could see why Ida felt that she had to work harder to gain their love and respect. I did like Olea, she brought a fresh faced innocence to the story and also brought out a nurturing and more childlike side to Ida. Stein also, although having a small role, I felt brought an element of honesty and cheekiness to the book.
I was slightly disappointed at how quickly it ended, I felt there could have been a little more just to resolve some of the family stress but in a way it probably ended as it should for Ida.
All in all it was an interesting story which highlighted the sometimes strained dynamics between family members, sisters especially, and discussed the ever present need for women to have it all, the career, the family and the happy relationship. It asks us the question What does it really take to grow up? I am the same age as Ida and it is a question I certainly am no closer to finding the answer to!!
About the author
Marie Aubert made her debut in 2016 with the short story collection Can I come home with you, published to great acclaim in Norway. Grown Ups is her first novel, and won the Young Peoples Critics' Prize and was nominated for the booksellers prize. Translated by Rosie Hedger and published by Pushkin Press, you can purchase a copy by following this link.