• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

Cronin's debut novel explores mortality, vulnerability, surprising moments of joy and reflection, an irresistible young protagonist, and a wonderful array of friends who are like family.

Somewhere, out in the world, are the people who touched us, or loved us, or ran from us. In that way we will live on.... We are in the back of hundreds of people's photographs--moving, talking, blurring into the background of a picture two strangers have framed on their living room mantelpiece. And in that way, we will live on too. But it isn't enough. It isn't enough to have been a particle in the great extant of existence. I want, we want, more. We want for people to know us, to know our story, to know who we are and who we will be. And after we've gone, to know who we were.

Seventeen-year-old Lenni Pettersson lives in the terminal ward at the Glasgow Princess Royal Hospital. Her life expectancy isn't long, but Lenni still has a lot she wants to do and be.

In the hospital's arts and crafts class, she meets 83-year-old Margot, a spirited, rebellious new friend. Collectively they've been around 100 years, but this just doesn't feel like enough, and they each want to leave their mark on the world.

With the help of Father Arthur, the hospital chaplain, and a kind palliative care nurse, the friends make a plan to create one hundred paintings, one to represent each of their years of life. This goal adds structure to the novel, but the story is far richer than the characters' mission to create art.

The character of Lenni seemed significantly younger than seventeen, and this kept occurring to me but didn't bother me. Her age likely needed to be at least seventeen in order for the situation with her parents to work within the story.

Cronin's debut takes place in a hospital's terminal ward and dips in and out of Margot's and Lenni's memories, building their pasts as they become irreplaceable to each other in the present. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot explores mortality, but also friends who are like family, failings and disappointments, deep connections forged in precious, everyday moments, and incredible grace.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

If you're interested in books that explore mortality, you might want to check out Six Powerful Memoirs about Facing Mortality.

Another novel I loved that involves a precocious, wise, reflective, tough young protagonist is This Is All He Asks of You.