Saturday, 26 November 2016

All Day at the Movies, by Fiona Kidman

I will follow Fiona Kidman almost anywhere she chooses to go in her novels. I've read all of them, and at first I was a bit disappointed with her latest novel 'All Day at the Movies'.

Unlike many of her other novels, there isn't one main female character to really care about and engage with her journey. Instead, this novel follows the fortunes of a family, with each chapter leaping ahead in time and changing perspective to another member of the family.

These characters aren't particularly connected to each other, so it's a novel of loosely connected segments. However, reflecting on it over the past week, I've come to appreciate what the novel does achieve.

It's an exploration of life in New Zealand, and the forces that have acted on people living here over the past seventy years. The first character we meet is Irene. Her life was going well until her husband dies towards the end of World War II. With a widow's pension, she is not allowed to keep her job at the Wellington library and she and her daughter end up in Motueka, where she lives in a hut and works in the tobacco fields.

She meets a man, becomes pregnant with a second child, and then he dies in an accident. She is alone and vulnerable, and marries Jock Pawson, the foreman who has had his eye on her since she arrived in Motueka, even though she dislikes him.

The lives of her second child and the two of Jock's that follow are the main subjects of the remainder of the novel. After Irene dies they are incredibly vulnerable. They make some choices that work out, and others that don't. Overall, there is a sense that the quality of their lives is very dependent on who they encounter and how those relationships pan out, rather than being particularly self-directed.

In this way, it is an unsettling novel populated by a lot of unhappy people as well as a few fortunate ones. The themes stay with me much longer than stories of the individual characters.