Book Review – The One Hundred Years Of Lenni And Margot by Marianne Cronin

Pages: 372
Published: 1st June 2021
Genre: General Fiction
Trigger warnings: Terminal illness storyline, child death

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.

There are many things that are very special about this book, all of which arise as an outcome of its wholesome and simply beautiful storytelling. It will break your heart and perhaps even make you cry, but also provoke several moments of reaffirming laughter as you journey through the lives of two captivating characters at relatively opposing ends of their lives, who share an unbreakable bond.

From the beginning it is clear that the story is going to be rather bittersweet and contain its share of sadness, but it is always infused with a dazzling spark that refuses to go out. A spark that is enhanced by a powerfully authentic writing style and a sharp use of wit, where an exceptional concept is realised to perfection and the characters are brought to life with such vibrancy despite their impending deaths.

Lenni Pettersson is a seventeen year-old girl who permanently resides on the May Ward at a Glasgow hospital, which is for terminally ill patients. She only has months to live and is relatively estranged from her family, having told her father to stay away. Socially introverted, she takes comfort in the friendships she builds with her new nurse and Father Arthur, the aged hospital chaplain.

One morning, Lenni is walking along a corridor she helps an elderly woman retrieve something from the cleaner’s trolley by causing a distraction. After asking to join the art class designed for patients over the age of eighty, she meets the woman properly and they immediately develop a connection to each other. Margot is eighty-three, and they realise that together they have been alive for one hundred years.

To reflect that, they share stories of each other’s lives and begin a project to create paintings to mark all one hundred years they have experienced. Lenni tells of her complex life with her parents in Sweden before she moved to Scotland while Margot shares numerous stories of a first marriage that ended in tragedy and a long-lasting relationship with a cherished friend. As Lenni steadily grows weaker, she is determined to live to see their project completed.

The story genuinely does grab you right from the first page and it is impossible not to be wholly invested in Lenni, just from the impression she makes on you early on. The same can be said about Margot when she arrives, and the tales she relays from her long and eventful life are enveloping as they become increasingly poignant to the extent that towards the end, they gain a mesmerising quality.

These flashbacks are gradually interspersed with the present day plot that is set entirely within the hospital, where the decision not to outwardly state the conditions Lenni and Margot are suffering from proves so very effective. It is fast paced and more or less every encounter Lenni has with the hospital staff or her fellow patients moves the plot forward and causes an emotional reaction, perhaps in part because we know how it is likely to end.

The vast majority is told by Lenni in the first person, with the exceptions of the final few chapters and the various flashbacks as told by Margot. These perspectives could hardly have been imagined any better as they give the story its essence and truly elevates all of the characters. Indeed, even the two mysterious chapters about the Temp carry that same uplifting vibe.

It takes the shortest possible time for Lenni to make an impression, as she is winningly charismatic and sharp-witted. She has her insecurities and can sometimes be smart to a fault, but she has a very big heart and is just someone who you would like to be friends with. The heartwarming friendships she builds during the story with the likes of Father Arthur and New Nurse are some of the absolute highlights.

Margot is a thoughtful and good-natured character who we actually get to know more through the many stories she tells of her past. These are fascinating and occasionally heart-rending, and always so full of depth. The end of her first marriage to David was so sad, but that gave way to her enduring friendship with the flighty Meena that often threatens to become something more, and the arrival of the truly wonderful Humphrey, whose story also ends with great poignancy.

It is down to this storytelling that you fall in love with the characters and are left more than a little emotional at certain points. Some scenes, especially towards the end, are beautifully crafted and carry such a weight. I looked forward to every chapter where Lenni would speak to Father Arthur, which were both entertaining and meaningful at the same time, while even her interactions with minor characters such as Paul and Pippa left a real impression.

The most prominent setting by far is the hospital, and despite the grim prognosis for Lenni and Margot and many of the other patients, the writing has a way of painting it as a place where you can experience some kind of happiness. Maybe that is largely because of Lenni’s dynamic narration, but it gives the place an energy and the friends she makes gives it a sense of community.

To find a single word to describe the writing is tricky, but given the subject matter, it is impactful, engaging, and expressive all rolled into one. It could hardly be better for this particular story, of which we witness so much through Lenni’s eyes and there is such personality in how it is conveyed, mixed with moments of philosophical reflection. That aforementioned spark is kept aflame by this, more than anything else.

Overall, this is a read that will stay with you for a long time after you have finished. While the premise and sections of the plot are undeniably sad, it has an optimism about it that makes the story so incredibly uplifting, too. Everything that takes place both past and present, ensures that you will be completely taken by Lenni and Margot and their combined century of life.

Born in Warwickshire, Marianne Cronin studied English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University before completing a PhD in Applied Linguistics at the University of Birmingham. It was during her PhD where, after suffering from some health concerns, she first had the idea for Lenni and Margot.

She began writing the novel in 2014 – the year it is set – and overall the process took seven years. When published, The One Hundred Years Of Lenni And Margot was critically acclaimed and nominated for awards, also being touted for a possible film adaptation.

A phenomenal debut. I absolutely loved this book and felt so many different emotions while reading it. The storytelling is outstanding.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


2 thoughts on “Book Review – The One Hundred Years Of Lenni And Margot by Marianne Cronin

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