Written By: Marianne Cronin
Final Overall Rating: 9.6
First of all, this review is purely derived from my own personal opinion. If you disagree, let me know in the comments; I am always up for a good discussion or to answer questions.
Recommend Yes or No:
I don’t think one book has ever made me cry more in my entire career of reading. This is a special novel. If you only get to read one book this year, read The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot. You won’t be disappointed. This book is tragically stunning and uncomfortably humorous. Cronin asks readers to reflect on death, and in particular our own impending death, and presents the question: Are you ready to die? Death is inevitable. We can’t avoid it – people have tried for centuries. So, if it is unescapable, how do you find peace with the long goodnight? Personally, I think the answer lies in friendship. But I will let you read the book and find out for yourself.
(Spoilers Below – Read at your own peril!)
Writing Style: 9/10
Cronin writes The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot in first person which is then narrated in past tense. This novel differs from the standard, singular narrator as both Lenni and Margot take turns telling both their individual and collective stories, and the transitions are flawless. Cronin focuses on beautiful, sharp prose to create a vivid world of story set in a sterile hospital of white and antiseptic. The prose both captures the juvenility of a child (in particular an “airport child”) and the maturity of an 83-year-old soul.
Cronin also writes remarkably genuine dialogue and internal thoughts to create a connection not only between the characters, but between the characters and the audience. It would be difficult for any reader not to fall in love with Lenni’s vulnerable sass and Margot’s ferocity.
Another strong focus in Cronin’s writing is her powerful descriptions – her ability to take something familiar and then create outside the box. A wonderful example of this is found in her opening line, “When people say “terminal,” I think of an airport” (3). She then follows this up by titling terminal children as “airport children” (9). What a beautiful and strange way to discuss a topic shrouded in tragedy. She uses a concept familiar to the general public to introduce a reality unfamiliar to many. This unique skill is one of the primary reasons her book is a tier higher in literary excellence than books following similar tropes or plots. Cronin’s writing style creates a lovely approach to discuss fragile topics, such as chosen family and inevitable death.
My only complaint with Cronin’s writing style is that occasionally she used a descriptive word that felt forced. But other than that, Cronin is a beautiful writer.
Many of us have experienced The Fault in Our Stars, Five Feet Apart or books just like them. They are great. Beautiful and meaningful. But for one reason or another, I always feel like something is missing. When I bought this book, I expected the ashen flavors many stories leave on my senses, not to taste a secret of the universe. A secret so simple it should be common, collective knowledge. The secret you ask? How to live with meaning. People forget their lives belong to them, not society. Humanity is so wrapped up with social expectation we forget to leave our memory, our existence, imprinted on the world. Mendacity is easier. But what is social expectation to a terminally ill patient? As Lenni and Margot prove, it’s not worth much. And if Lenni and Margot can leave their memory etched into the world after they are gone, then can’t you? It’s easy. You just have to be unapologetically yourself.
Character Development: 10/10
If I were teaching a class on creative writing, this would be the assigned read for character development (and maybe Backman’s A Man Called Ove or Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio). The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot creates beautifully complex characters. And though neither Lenni nor Margot ever leave the hospital there is not a lack of development.
Lenni’s character develops primarily in the hospital. As she is dying, her character struggles with the fear surrounding death and how to leave a legacy when 17 years of life seems hardly enough time. But where there is a will, and art supplies, there is a way. Even in the direst of circumstances Lenni discovers she can find hope and peace leading up to the inevitable.
Margot’s character development mainly occurs in the backstories she divulges to Lenni. We follow Margot from childhood, to her first marriage, the loss of a child, the discovery of her sexuality, her remarriage, the death of her second love, and finally her stay in the May Ward. Margot is modern and strong and a little bit wild – the perfect medicine for a dying teen. By the end of the novel Margot learns she’s never too old to live and to take a leap of faith.
One of my favorite things about this novel is even the side characters have development. It is an area in writing many authors fail to cultivate. Just because a character an author creates was intended to stand on the sidelines, helping to progress the story, doesn’t mean the reader doesn’t desire development for those minor characters. Cronin delivers character development to each of her characters and I love it.
Fun Facts about Marianne Cronin:
- The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is Cronin’s debut novel.
- The book took 7 years to write.
- Cronin does improv.
- Cronin owns a rescue cat named Puffin.
Favorite Quotes from The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot:
- “Living and dying are both complete mysteries, and you can’t know either until you have done both” (15).
- “The cruelty of strangers never usually upsets me, but the kindness of strangers is oddly devastating” (137).
- “There’s nothing worse than being made comfortable” (187).
- “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night” (223).
Life is made up of many moments in many days over many years… those moments make up your life, so don’t be afraid to live in them – there’s no second chances.
Cronin, Marianne. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot. New York: HarperCollins Publisher, 2021. Print.