Life is short. No-one knows that better than seventeen-year-old Lenni living on the terminal ward. But as she is about to learn, it’s not only what you make of life that matters, but who you share it with.
Dodging doctor’s orders, she joins an art class where she bumps into fellow patient Margot, a rebel-hearted eighty-three-year-old from the next ward. Their bond is instant as they realize that together they have lived an astonishing one hundred years.
To celebrate their shared century, they decide to paint their life stories: of growing old and staying young, of giving joy, of receiving kindness, of losing love, of finding the person who is everything.
As their extraordinary friendship deepens, it becomes vividly clear that life is not done with Lenni and Margot yet.
Fiercely alive, disarmingly funny and brimming with tenderness, THE ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF LENNI AND MARGOT unwraps the extraordinary gift of life even when it is about to be taken away, and revels in our infinite capacity for friendship and love when we need them most.
I was absolutely thrilled to win a proof copy of this book in a Twitter competition run by @bkslovelythings (who is as lovely as her Twitter handle suggests) – huge thanks to Jo, Alison Barrow and Doubleday for the chance to get an early look at this beautiful novel. I had already heard brilliant things, and I couldn’t resist diving straight in.
I adored this book. The friendship between Lenni and Margot is heartfelt, honest, entirely believable, and so movingly depicted. The idea of them combining their century of lived experience and creating something meaningful out of it is so delicately and beautifully handled; it never comes across as overly sentimental or simplistic. Rather it is really quite a profound act of generosity and creativity, and I think it taps into a deep understanding of the nature of storytelling. It made me think a lot about how reading allows me to ‘live’ other lives – there is a complex, almost spiritual sense of sharing in the way that Margot, who has experienced so much more than Lenni ever will, hands over her memories to her young friend, like a kind of inheritance more precious than jewels. The thing that Lenni is denied by her diagnosis – a long, full life punctuated by joys and sadnesses, loves and losses, becomes something almost transferable, shareable – and it’s astonishingly moving to witness.
Margot’s story unfolds in gorgeously fragmented shards – as readers, we piece the details together alongside Lenni, interrupted by the daily routines of hospital life. Marianne Cronin is an incredibly skilled writer; she makes this gradual, complicated stitching together of life experiences seem completely organic. There is a lightness of touch here which in itself is a kind of authorial generosity – the characters are right at the forefront; the complexity of the structure is modestly backgrounded, so that the multiple strands seem to flow effortlessly. It is very inspiring.
I loved Margot, and her life story is fascinating and nuanced, but my heart belongs to Lenni. In a way, I feel as if there are shades of another one of my absolute favourite recent characters here: Matson Taylor’s Evie Epworth. Like Evie, Lenni is a character who leaps out of the page, who lodges herself in the reader’s imagination as a real person, and an incredible one at that. She’s funny, she’s rebellious, she is generous, kind and huge-hearted, and I fell hard for her. In the author’s acknowledgements, she speaks about how Lenni ‘visited’ her, and I am so glad she did. There is a little bit of magic involved with characters as special as Lenni, characters so real they stay with you, and this alchemy, this sprinkling of stardust, is what makes the very best books soar.
This book is both heart-breaking and heart-warming, sometimes at the same time. It made me sob, but in truly cathartic way, and more often, it made me laugh. I think it’s the strongest emotional reaction I’ve had to a book for a long time. It is very hard to put into words how special this book is: it simultaneously manages to celebrate life and make us less afraid of death, and what could be more beautiful and inspiring than that?
The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin will be published on 18th Febraury 2021 by Doubleday and is available to pre-order here.