All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman: The story of a family

Cover imageLike that old joke about buses, after not reading a novel by a New Zealand author in a very long time I’ve read two in just over a month – first C. K. Stead’s The Necessary Angel and now Fiona Kidman’s All Day at the Movies. I remember reading a post at Word by Word about Kidman in which Claire mentioned that she was little known outside New Zealand and Australia which seems a shame. With luck this story of a family, spanning over sixty years, will bring her writing a little more attention, here in the UK at least.

Irene Sandle has taken a job in the tobacco fields. A widow who spent the war working in her local library and raising six-year-old Jessie, she‘s unused to the sheer hard graft of manual labour but determined to reclaim her independence. Fending off the foreman’s attentions, she’s won over by the small acts of kindness of another, gentler man. After a disaster in which Bert is killed, Irene finds it expedient to accept the bullying Jock, marrying him and having three more children. When Irene dies, her neighbour steps neatly into her shoes, turning her face away from Jock’s abuse and dealing out her own cruelty. Jessie takes off, heading for the city, then Belinda is taken in by Jock’s sister leaving Janice and Grant at the mercy of Jock and Charm, a misnomer if ever there was one. These four will lead very different lives: Jessie building a glittering journalistic career; Belinda marrying her first love and becoming a documentary maker; Janice running from the man she thought would save her from Jock, and Grant searching for a new identity, distancing himself from his toxic upbringing.

A family saga is a very old-fashioned structure but if handled well it can be immensely satisfying, and Kidman does it beautifully. Beginning in 1952 and ending in 2015, this engrossing novel follows the four siblings down the disparate roads they choose or are taken down, bringing them back to the root of what has formed them, while offering snapshots of New Zealand’s story along the way. Themes of racism, violence and abuse run through the novel, all explored with admirable humanity. Even the less sympathetic characters are well-rounded with backstories compassionately told.  It took me a little while to get into as a multitude of characters were introduced but after the first few chapters I was hooked. This is such an accomplished novel, thoroughly absorbing with all its loose ends neatly tucked in. Like C. K. Stead, Kidman is a mature author with an extensive backlist which I’m looking forward to exploring.

19 thoughts on “All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman: The story of a family

  1. Liz

    This sounds like a great read. I don’t think I have yet read anything from NZ and look forward to putting that right with some of Kidman’s work.

    Reply
      1. Liz

        It’s so brilliant to be part of the book blogging community. I can’t imagine that my reading choices would be anywhere near as eclectic and enjoyable without it!

        Reply
  2. buriedinprint

    Having been raised on the family saga, I think I am overly patient for it, thanks to nostalgia kicking in, but I do recognize when a good one comes to the fore of the genre and they really do stand out. This sounds very satisfying indeed and I am marking it on my TBR!

    Reply
  3. Claire 'Word by Word'

    I don’t know how I missed this post, you’re on a roll reading NZ fiction there Susan! I must get hold of this one too.

    I read a couple of her books last year, both excellent, one about the first European woman to go and live in NZ, bit of a clue as to what happens to her in the title The Captive Wife and The Infinite Air, a novel about our infamous female aviator Jean Batten, from the 1930’s, who having been relatively famous for her aviation exploits, attempting record-breaking solo flights from England to Australia and NZ, died in relative obscurity in Spain, buried in a pauper’s grave, without the nation aware of her passing.

    I also have another sitting here unread Songs From the Violet Cafe that I’m looking forward to reading. Thank you for the reminder!

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I know! I have you to thank for putting me on to Kidman, Claire. I’ll be keeping an eye out for her backlist. All the titles you mention sound interesting.

      Reply
  4. Kath

    This sounds good, and was already on my radar, so I’m bumping it. I really enjoy finding out more about a country’s history through the lives of one of its families.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      It’s a clever way to view a country’s history through the lens of one family, particularly if you choose a reasonably large one. I hope you enjoy it, Kath.

      Reply
  5. Pingback: Songs From the Violet Café by Fiona Kidman – Word by Word

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