Lenni is seventeen and terminally ill. Margot is eighty-three and awaiting a series of heart surgeries. They unofficially meet at Glasgow Princess Royal Hospital when Margot, decked out in purple from head to toe, goes dumpster diving for a letter and Lenni distracts a nurse from discovering her. Margot and Lenni officially meet in the Rose Room, a therapy space where hospital patients can create art, when Lenni adamantly insists on joining the eighty and above class. When the two discover they’ve lived an astonishing one hundred years, they set out to create one hundred paintings commemorating the key moments of their shared century. Canvases of first kisses, birthday cakes, a baby in a too-small yellow hat, a night full of stars, and more celebrate their lives. Full of tenderness and quiet observations, The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is one you’ll want to finish with a box of tissues nearby.
While Margot and Lenni are perceptive, funny, and witty, it’s the cast of supporting characters that make this novel come alive. Hospital chaplain Father Arthur and Lenni banter back and forth about faith, loss, watercress sandwiches, and silverfish. Margot’s second husband, Humphrey, is such an enamored astronomer that he stands in the middle of the street, risking life and limb, to better observe the stars. “New Nurse” confides her career insecurities with Lenni and “The Intern” has a satisfying, full-circle moment when it comes to the hospital and the art space. Chicken stories are scattered throughout. Whimsical and sweet, but never saccharine, the novel is a celebration of life and death.
The inspiration behind The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is personal. Author Marianne Cronin suffers from severe migraines; painting lets her temporarily escape the debilitating symptoms. Cronin also wrote her novel while earning a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics after Lenni came to her “as a fully formed voice” in her head. Cronin did an author visit with the Cuyahoga County Public Library last summer that you can watch here. She is also featured on Episode 1109 of the Author Stories Podcast with Hank Garner and Episode 509 of the Reading and Writing Podcast.