A debut novel of unlikely friendship, in which two women, one young, one old, meet in art class while in hospital and decide to celebrate their well-lived lives through paintings. Fiercely alive and brimming with tenderness, this uplifting story revels in our infinite capacity for friendship and love when we are most in need.
Life is short – no one knows that better than 17 year-old Lenni Petterssen. On the Terminal ward, the nurses are offering their condolences already, but Lenni still has plenty of living to do. For a start, she has questions about her fate she needs answers to, and stories yet to uncover.
When she meets 83-year-old Margot, a fellow patient in purple pyjamas offering new friendship and enviable artistic skills, Lenni’s life begins to soar in ways she’d never imagined.
As their bond deepens, a world of stories opens up: of wartime love and loss, of misunderstanding and reconciliation, of courage, kindness and joy. Stories that have led them to their combined one hundred years, to the end of their days.2021
As soon as I read the description for this book I knew it was a story that I would fall in love with.
Seventeen year old Lenni has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and when she is admitted to hospital, she is determined to find some way to fill her days, other than staying in her hospital bed. When Lenni comes across the art room, she soon meets Margot, an 83 year old lady, and this is where a beautiful bond is first formed. With every passing day, Lenni and Margot’s friendship grows stronger, and they both learn so much about the ways in which each of them have lived their lives, and the importance of being accepted and understood by someone, and that age is quite simply just a number.
This story was captivating from the start. A lot of the time, when you hear a story is set within a hospital you instantly prepare yourself for a rather sad story. However, this book was anything but!. Of course, there is always the underlying storyline of Lenni’s terminal diagnosis, but I truly adored the way in which this story focused on the many positive qualities that Lenni posessed instead, alongside the uplifting and truly heart warming messages both characters put forward to one another, this was in fact a story full of optimism and love.
Both Lenni and Margot are the most beautiful, endearing characters. Lenni is witty and humorous, alongside having a lot of love to share. Margot is also a fun and charismatic soul, who has many life lessons to share. As you come to learn more about both characters as the story progresses, you find yourself seeing both Lenni and Margot as close friends.
The story was given so much depth, it allowed me to become well and truly immersed in the world in which the author had created. The characters were so realistic, with each of them having their own unique personalities and life stories to share, all of which added more layers to this lovely story. The setting was vivid in my mind, I could easily picture the art room and its occupants.
It is safe to say that I certainly found myself on an emotional rollercoaster whilst reading this book! From crying, to not being able to remove the smile from my face. Heart warming and heart breaking all at once, this book is undoubtedly one of my all time favourites. The story was unique and so beautifully written, it is quite honestly impossible to not fall well and truly in love with this moving story.
About the Author
Marianne Cronin was born in 1990. She studied English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Birmingham. She now spends most of her time writing, with her newly-adopted rescue cat sleeping under her desk. When she’s not writing, Marianne can be found performing improv and stand up in the West Midlands, where she lives.
Her debut novel The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is to be published around the world and is being adapted into a feature film by Sony/Columbia Pictures. It has been sold in 25 territories to date.
Marianne Cronin says:
I started writing a few days after a girl I’d known at university had passed away of a terminal illness and I remember going to the big Tesco that day and having this feeling that all the people around me didn’t know she had lived or died and it got me thinking about the mark we leave on the world. I had known the girl through our university course and whenever we’d worked together, she was lovely but quite shy. When she died, a lot of her closer friends and carers wrote on Facebook about her sense of humour and her cheeky personality – a side that I hadn’t seen to her myself and I wondered if maybe I hadn’t been looking hard enough and that played a big part in Lenni’s creation – that the outside world might see her as one thing, but in reality she is a firecracker of a personality.
Then with my own experienced in hospital (which were investigations for my heart) I found myself thinking a lot about my own mortality and when I was having an ultrasound on my heart it really hit me how fragile the whole system keeping me alive is. While waiting for appointments, I found myself paying a lot of attention to all the little details in the hospital, but also saw a lot of the funny side too, such as when I was strapped to an ECG machine and asked to run on a treadmill without a top on – not my finest hour!
Finding comfort in friends is definitely a good theme and pertinent to the current state of the world. I wanted the book to show the power in female friendships – a lot of film/tv depicts female friendships as toxic and competitive and I think that can diminish the strength that female friendships can provide – especially in my own life, I’ve been blessed with some amazing friends and I think Lenni and Margot’s friendship really brings out the best in them.
Finding faith. I was sent to Catholic school (by my atheist parents) and it was pretty terrifying – because my family weren’t practicing Catholics, I never knew what the rules were or what the words to the prayers were and I was always scared of getting in trouble for doing something wrong. Arthur, the priest in the novel is based on one of my very dear friends I met at university. When we first met, he was very religious and I …/
was very not and we would have these fun debates about religion that would go on for hours. And it was the first time I’d been friends with someone who had such different opinions to my own, but we managed to be great friends (and still are) and what I wanted to show with Arthur is that you can be friends with someone even if you are completely different.
Arthur’s tolerance of other faiths/beliefs was really important to me. I didn’t want him to be a conventional priest – I think it’s rare to find someone so open to having their beliefs questioned and so willing to support others, so maybe that’s part of his appeal? When I was writing, I kept thinking of the quote that friendship is a natural reaction and can’t be forced. And I think with Lenni and Arthur, their friendship happens almost by accident and is just a natural reaction to these two compatible personalities. He’s her sounding board for the big questions and I think we’d all like to have someone like Arthur in our lives!
I was very Catholic until I went to secondary school (which was also catholic in name but not really in practice – it was quite liberal – we didn’t have a school uniform and could call our teachers by their first names) and then it was just a case of slowly questioning and unlearning everything I had learned up until then. Lenni’s debates with Arthur involved a lot of the internal debates I had with myself when I was struggling to believe. I think not believing can be quite a lonely thing, especially if you used to have faith or a lot of the people around you have faith.
Improvisation: I do improv (which is basically the same thing as that TV show Whose Line is it Anyway) and it is almost the opposite of being a writer, because writing is all about capturing thoughts and characters and preserving them to keep forever, whereas improv is making something up on the spot, doing it, and then it’s gone and you can never get it back. I’d already written the first draft of Lenni when I started going to evening classes to learn improv, but it gave the creative part of my brain a real boost – getting outside my usual overthinking and worrying and planning and getting me used to just doing things.
One of the first things they teach you in improv is to stop trying to be funny – it never works when people are trying for a laugh, you just have to follow the scene and sometimes you’ll end up with something interesting rather than funny. And when I was writing L&M, I genuinely wasn’t setting out for it to be funny, so it’s been lovely to have that feedback, mostly I was just having fun with Lenni amusing herself in conversation with other people. My PhD also helped me with the rhythm of dialogue – my PhD examined how impoliteness between fictional characters creates humour and so for the data analysis I transcribed many many hours of British sitcom data and that helped me figure out how fictional conversations can flow.
I think humour as a defence mechanism and humour in the face of darkness (gallows humour?) is quite a British thing and something I tried to use in the book. Whenever I’m scared or upset, the first thing I try to do it to make myself laugh or smile about something. and I think we’ve seen humour as a defence being so important to the public throughout Covid – especially on platforms like tik tok.
I’d had the idea for the setting after seeing a segment on This Morning – a feature on a hospital’s art therapy room. I’d wanted to have an intergenerational friendship for set in this hospital art room and this felt perfect
As research, I watched (and cried a lot at) the Channel 4 documentary My Last Summer which explored the lives of people living with terminal illness. It picked out the isolation terminally ill people were feeling and how some had been (or felt they had been) abandoned by family and friends who didn’t know how to cope with their diagnosis. The project made me think about the two sides of illness and how someone may seem on the outside to be very ill, but be full of life and wit and energy in reality. I tried to incorporate this into Lenni – that people who pass her and see her think she is weak, but she is really a firecracker of a person, which anyone who takes the time to speak to her discovers.
I had a number of hospital appointments when I was in the early stages of writing. I had ECGs and heart scans, exercise tests and all sorts which were trying to find out why my heart rate was too high. Spending time in hospital having these tests done gave me the opportunity to see parts of the hospital I hadn’t seen before. The same when I had a minor surgery, the experience and vulnerability of that contributed to some of Lenni’s surgery scenes.