Scoop Review of Books

Archive for August, 2016

Meet — Ourselves

All Day at the Movies
by Fiona Kidman (Vintage, $38)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington


Fiona Kidman hands us ourselves as a scrumptious national dish, heaped with goodies (and some baddies) from our homeland. She is not just Dame Fiona Kidman, she is the grande dame of New Zealand writing as she tells it how it is – and was – for us, as real people in this landscape.

Poet, short story writer and novelist Kidman has won many major New Zealand awards for her writing, and brings alive the people who inhabit our land – especially in All Day at the Movies, the title of which is hidden in the text in an unexpected way. As in life, and in the lives of Kidman’s characters, nothing can be assumed.

We meet six-year-old Jessie and her war-widowed mother Irene as they move to sunny Nelson for a new start, with their encounters there leading the family back to Wellington to make another new life by the sea. Backgrounded by the aftermath of the Depression, war, mass workers’ strikes in the fifties through the Springbok Tour protests of the eighties and on into the recent past, the characters – mainly women with peripheral but significant men – in Irene’s expanding family play their parts so realistically they were probably our own neighbours, families, friends or workmates. We travel from workers’ huts in Nelson’s tobacco fields to flats and houses in Wellington, Turangi and Auckland – even going as far north as the Hokianga and as far south as the Mackenzie area.

Kidman’s situations are so real and so close to our people’s real lives that it hurts. This book should be compulsory reading for all politicians, judges, social workers; in fact anyone who has anything to do with managing the lives of others. They might then understand more. People are just people. And anything could happen to anyone, fom anywhere.

All Day at the Movies doesn’t just reflect ourselves; it is us. As Kidman herself says, “Fictions are based on a set of possibilities and probabilities.”

And with her life almost over, the ageing Jessie says, “I think we should stop trying to save all the world and focus on what good we can do for one another in the space we occupy.”

Women and Nature

The Quiet Spectacular
by Laurence Fearnley (Penguin NZ, $38)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

Quiet_Spectacular_Cover_webAgainst a background of day-to-day family life, librarian Loretta is triggered by a copy of The Dangerous Book for Boys to identify her yearning for freedom and adventure. Some of this yearning is a mis-guided desire for self-sufficient country life but this manifests itself in another way, not too far from home, and it’s not only Loretta who needs a “room of her own” and finds one.

There is teenaged Chance, environmentalist Riva and the local wetlands – as with all Fearnley’s novels, the place is a strong character – alongside all the people she interacts with as she finds she doesn’t have to do this journey on her own.

Relationships between friends and strangers, teacher and pupils, mothers and children, men and women are shown in their quiet or less quiet ways while Loretta assembles her own “dangerous book” notes, interspersed with potted histories of famous women adventurers to help carry the story forward as they accompany her on her path to freedom and adventure. But it’s the relationships between women and their own directions in life, as well as with one another, that are the strongest focus here.


Laurence Fearnley’s previous novels are The Sound of Her Body, Room (short-listed for a Montana New Zealand Book Award), Delphine’s Run, Butler’s Ringlet, Degrees of Separation, Edwin + Matilda (fiction runner-up for the Montana) and Mother’s Day. The Hut Builder won the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Award for Fiction; Fearnley has also received a Creative New Zealand grant, an Antarctic Fellowship and a Robert Burns Fellowship.
The Quiet Spectacular is more surprising than it is spectacular. But then so are most of our lives. Perhaps that is the point – we can all find freedom and adventure around us if we are open to it. There’s no need to sail the ocean to look for treasure.