Review: All Day at the Movies, Fiona Kidman

All Day st the Movies, Fiona Kidman

All Day st the Movies, Fiona Kidman

All Day at the Movies
Fiona Kidman
Vintage, $38

Dame Fiona Kidman's latest chart-topper is a bold, meaty work. At heart, it's the narrative of one family, headed by matriarch Irene Sandle, told across 55 years of social and cultural history.

A novel of 14 chapters, it's also clearly a collection of 14 interconnected stories. Each offers a narrative linked to a family member. So, for instance, the opener, 'The Smoke Harvest' tells of 1950s widower Irene struggling financially to raise her young daughter, Jessie, and relocating to the Tasman area to work the tobacco fields.

Cleverly Kidman turns the personal here to her thematic advantage, with Irene's everyday persona constrained
by limited choices serving as a microcosm of what it was like for women to exist during a time of dominant patriarchal sexual and social mores.

The next story, 'Clay Particles' moves us along in both lineage and time, with Jessie and her half-siblings taking centre-stage nearly a decade later. This is a structure as clever as it is simple, enabling the reader to feel, as if viewing an entire stock of family movies, sated by the wide scope of the past, while remaining attached to the rich growth and variation of genealogy.

Kidman's plotting of women's lives and experiences in All Day at the Movies – and her wider oeuvre – is emotionally and intellectually enriching, especially given New Zealand's close connection to the history of female emancipation. Unwed mothers; adoption; war; financial independence for women; interracial marriage: Kidman weaves changing social and political attitudes to all into her tenth novel.

Always these matters are more than simple subjects; rather they exist as artefacts too, testaments to belief systems once rationalised but thankfully long left behind. Throughout, the author's attention to detail and meticulous research are apparent but never self-evident. All Day at the Movies is a rich, responsive read.

Part-personal story of family, part-political exploration of attitudes and prejudices, it is always uplifting. Even when it takes us to bitter, callous moments in time, the author's optimism in humanity prevails.

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