Ida is a forty-year-old architect, single and struggling with the 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 family country 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’m a big fan of translated fiction, but I haven’t read much Norwegian fiction at all, except for Vidgis Hjorth’s excellent book Long Live the Post Horn! – so I was intrigued by Grown Ups and delighted to be offered a spot on the blog tour. Many thanks to Tara at Pushkin Press for providing me with a proof copy in exchange for an honest review.
This is a slim book, but it packs a real punch. It is both funny and really unnerving, so close to the bone that it feels dangerously exposing. I have rarely read a book in which the family dynamics at play feel quite so hostile and tense without it tipping over into a full-blown thriller. The relationship between Ida and her sister is frequently uncomfortable to read, but it is horribly accurate on the way we needle those close to us, pressing the most sensitive nerves because we have intimate knowledge of where they are. The knowledge that a family member carries, especially a sibling, is a potential incendiary device: all that history simmers just under the surface. It’s horrifyingly and fascinatingly realistic to watch the sisters poking each other with their sharpened words.
Ida is a hypnotic protagonist. She’s not likeable, which is refreshing (I’ve talked before about how we need more unlikeable female protagonists!) but it is possible to sympathise with her situation as she wrestles with the ticking of her damn biological clock, and the sense of time passing her by before she has really worked out what she wants from life. She is a really interesting mix of cynicism and naivety – she veers from childish behaviour to trying to keep everything together, and I found my feelings towards her changed moment to moment. Sometimes I just wanted to shake her and tell her to behave – other times I was completely on her side. When your emotions are so highly activated by a character, you know the book is a good one!
This is a brave, sometimes shocking novel, which ramps up the tension in subtle ways until by the end you really do feel that anything could happen. The vivid present tense and the careful descriptions of the family meals and evening drinking sessions at the cabin create an immersive reading experience, and I finished the book feeling as if I had been more than just an observer of this incredibly complicated family holiday. Intelligent, angry, uncomfortable and at times almost unbearably tense, this is a brilliant book that I highly recommend, and I look forward to reading more of the author’s work.
Grown Ups by Marie Aubert translated by Rosie Hedger is published by Pushkin Press and is available to purchase here.