Scoop Review of Books

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.”