family drama

REVIEW: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee. Both of her parent’s want her to fulfil the dreams they never could. Lydia is dead in a nearby lake. Her family doesn’t know that yet. And when they do, it will shatter everything they thought they knew about Lydia, and each other.

I attempted to read Everything I Never Told You a couple of years ago for the #DiversAThon but only got about 50 or so pages into it as I couldn’t connect to the characters and the story didn’t grab me. This time, I listened to the audiobook narrated by Cassandra Campbell and I found the story easier to consume via audio. I think that’s because while the story is told from multiple points of view there’s also an omniscient feel to the narrative voice. For instance, there’s moments when it comments on the future, or makes an observation that a character couldn’t have known at that moment.

There’s a mystery element to Everything I Never Told You as you don’t know how Lydia died, whether it was suicide or if there was someone else with Lydia on the lake. But it’s not as if a character is being an amateur detective trying to solve it, instead it’s more about the repercussions of Lydia’s death on her parents, her older brother Nath and her younger sister Hannah.

One thing I did like about this story was that it featured a biracial family. James is Chinese-American, and Marilyn is a blonde white woman so there’s interesting commentary on how their relationship is seen from the outside and also the pressures placed on Lydia and her siblings for looking so different to their peers. Everything I Never Told You is set in the 1970s in a small town in Ohio so there’s no one else but the Lee family that looks “out of place”. It also explores the sexism of the 1960s and 70s as Marilyn dreamed of becoming a doctor and as she tried to pursue that dream, men in her university classes would persistently make comments and her own mother expected her to find a husband and settle down rather than have a career.

Everything I Never Told You is frustrating in a way because the whole Lee family is terrible at communicating with one another. No one tells anyone how they really feel about something, what they want to do in their lives, or even honestly share how their day was. They are all putting on a front in different ways, talking to each other in half-truths and bottling up everything they feel they cannot say.

Everything I Never Told You is mostly a study of a family. A family who has suddenly experienced something tragic and are all grieving differently. There’s a distance between the reader and the characters due to the narrative voice, however that does fit in well with this book as the characters are distant from one another too. 3/5.

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REVIEW: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) have been dating for over a year, and when it’s Nick’s best friend Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding in Singapore, it’s the perfect chance for Rachel to meet Nick’s family and friends – what she doesn’t expect is for them all to be super rich and famous!

Based on the book of the same name by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy that’s big, bright and full of over the top characters and settings, and somehow it all works.

Singapore with all its people, buildings and food looks stunning. The film captures the extravagance of these characters lives, showing all the glitz and glamour but still being able to shine light, however briefly, on the characters more hidden sides – one of Nick’s cousins Astrid (Gemma Chan) has a subplot with her dissatisfied husband (Pierre Png) that’s heart-breaking.

Rachel and Nick are a believable couple as their chemistry is fantastic and they actually talk about the problems they encounter – though both of them don’t always understand what the other could face because of their relationship. Rachel’s main adversary is Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), Nick’s glamourous and reserved mother. She wants the best for her son and see’s Rachel as an outsider and a distraction, both because of Rachel’s status in class, and the fact she grew up in America. As Eleanor’s disapproval becomes more obvious, Rachel must decide whether to fight or give in to the almost insurmountable pressures she and Nick are under. While Eleanor is the villain to Rachel’s hero, the film never fully villainises her, instead being sure to show Eleanor’s side to things and making her sympathetic in her own way.

The whole cast is brilliant and while the romance is the main focus, the film showcases some brilliant relationships between women. There’s Rachel and her best friend from university Peik Lin (Awkwafina) who is hilarious and supportive, Astrid is one of the few members of her family to fully accept and like Rachel straight away, and Rachel and mother (Kheng Hua Tan) have one of the best mother-daughter relationships, and while her mother is from China, even she doesn’t quite get all the ins and outs of high Singapore society.

Crazy Rich Asians is a funny, romantic film with engaging characters you root for. Everything works, the opulence, the music and the cast. It’s a delightful film that’s pure escapism and there’s nothing wrong with that. 5/5.

You can read my review of the book here.

READ THE WORLD – Tanzania: The Last Gift by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Abbas has never told anyone about his childhood and his life before he was a sailor, before he met his wife Maryam outside a Boots in Exeter and they made a quiet life for themselves in Norwich with their children, Jamal and Hanna. At the age of sixty-three, Abbas collapses and is left bedbound and unable to do speak about the secrets of his past. Abbas’s illness forces his children home, Hanna who calls herself Anna now and is moving to a new city with her boyfriend, and Jamal, a quiet university student who is captivated by a young woman in his shared student house. There they have to deal with their father’s silences and their fretful mother as their parents’ pasts are revealed.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Lyndam Gregory and it took me a while into the story because of his narration, I just didn’t really take to it straight away.

The Last Gift is told from the perspectives of each family member with each chapter having a section of the story from each character. The exposition at the beginning of the novel is blended almost seamlessly with the action. Abbas collapses at the very beginning of the story and as he does so, it’s like his life flashes before his eyes, allowing the reader to get a sense of who he is. It’s not until he is recuperating that he begins to think about his childhood and adolescence, and the reasons why he left Zanzibar, for the first time in decades after keeping the guilt and memories buried for so long. His revelations shock his wife and children and they each deal with it differently.

The Last Gift is a story about immigrants, their children, and the struggle to find an identity. Maryam doesn’t know who her parents were and grew up with different foster families. She has dark skin and as a child was bullied and didn’t feel like she fit in. She’s not confident in herself and has relied on Abbas to deal with money and bills, so when he falls ill she has a whole new world of responsibilities to navigate.

As Abbas had previously only told his family he was from East Africa when they asked, and Maryam has no idea of her heritage, Hanna and Jamal have never really known what their family heritage is. When they are faced with some unexpected knowledge of it, Hanna doesn’t want to be a part of a “vile immigrant tragedy” while Jamal is keen to find out more.

The Last Gift is about stories and memories, and how not everyone wants to hear them and face up to the truth of them. Most of the characters are nuanced, Hanna especially is equal parts unlikable and sympathetic, and while some of them get some closure, others are left as uncertain of their place in the world as when the book began. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Meddler (2015)

Marnie (Susan Sarandon) doesn’t know what to do with herself after her husband dies so she moves closer to her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne) and soon befriends Lori’s friends and tries to fully intergrate herself into Lori’s life.

The Meddler is about grief. It’s been over a year since her husband died but Marnie misses him terribly and suddenly has way more money than she knows what to do with thanks to his life insurance payout. She becomes overly generous because of that, paying for her daughter’s friend Jillian’s (Cecily Strong) wedding and buying expensive gifts for just about anyone she meets. She even befriends Apple store worker Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael), convincing him to take night classes and then even driving him to and from them.

The problem with Marnie is I did not like her. I understand why she is being so interfering and clingy as it’s because she’s still grieving and is focussing on everyone around her instead of thinking about her dead husband but that still didn’t stop me from wanting to throttle her. While Lori obviously still loves her mother, even though she annoys her a lot of the time, as a viewer I had no fond feelings for her at all.

The Meddler is heartfelt and sometimes funny too. The performances are all great and Sarandon is a standout but that wasn’t enough to get me to look past how much I disliked Marnie. Unfortunately my dislike of Marnie had a knock on affect and made me dislike the film itself. 2/5.

REVIEW: What Maisie Knew (2012)

Young Maisie (Onata Aprile) is caught between her feuding parents, Susanna and Beale (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan), as they go through a bitter custody battle.

The thing that makes What Maisie Knew special yet also kind of heart-breaking, is that Maisie is our eyes and ears as the whole film is from her point of view. She sees the fights between her parents, she sees her mother spending more and more time making music, and she sees what’s going on between her father and her former nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham) before just about anyone else. It’s sad because the reason she notices what’s going around her is not because the adults in her life are bad at keeping secrets, but it’s more like they forget she’s there, and that while she’s young, she still has a mind of her own.

Maisie’s relationship with Margo and Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård), her mother’s new husband, is incredibly sweet and touching. What Maisie Knew shows how there’s more than one kind of family and it can be one where there’s no blood relations at all.

As the film progresses more and more secrets are revealed, and Maisie becomes less innocent as she goes through some turbulent times. However, she never truly loses her child-like wonder with the world even when she begins to see her parents as real, flawed people at a much earlier age than she should.

Onata Aprile is a very talented young actress, she more than holds her own when she’s in some emotional scenes with Julianne Moore, who’s also great in this.

What Maisie Knew is a touching film, full of powerful performances and compelling relationships. It’s a great drama that can be tough to watch at times but that makes it all the more special. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – New Zealand: All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman

*I received a proof copy of this book from the publisher upon request it, in return for an honest review*

In 1952, war widow Irene Sandle travels to the tobacco fields of New Zealand in the hope of building a new and better life for her daughter Jessie. But this bold act of independence triggers a ripple effect whose repercussions resonate long after her death, forever shaping her children’s lives – for better or worse.

All Day at the Movies spans over sixty years and three generations, following Irene’s children Jessie, Belinda, Grant and Janice. The story spans their lives, romances, mistakes and their own children’s lives too, and slowly you begin to see the lasting impact of Irene’s choices. Some of the consequences of her actions are horrific but she was just as much a victim of circumstance as her children would be, and there’s no way she could have predicted what would happen to her children. At the time she, was doing what she thought was best for her and her daughter, struggling to survive any way she could.

Each chapter is like a snapshot in time, looking at where a member of the family or people adjacent to them are and how they’re doing. As the years jump forward, anywhere between one to ten years, you see how time has affected this family. These snapshots are an interesting way to tell these characters stories, and it does make All Day at the Movies a quick read, but it does sometimes make it harder to connect to these characters and who they encounter. For example, you might be following Belinda in one chapter and then not be with her till three chapters later and fifteen years have passed, her life may have changed a lot in that time and it’s through memories and conversations that you learn what’s happened in that time you’ve been away from her.

All Day at the Movies is well-written and features a lot of complicated characters. Some are downright unlikable, but many of them feel like real people who make mistakes but still try their best. There’s some characters who seem awful but when you learn more about them, you feel some sympathy for them, but the story never absolves them of their actions. This book allows characters to have layers and flaws without redeeming them, giving you a story about people who occupy shades of grey.

All Day at the Movies is about family, how people can drift a part but also can come back together if they try. It’s about how one act can shape a generation and how they in turn see their loved ones and their own value. It’s a story that can be uncomfortable and harsh, but one that also offers a sense of hope that things can get better. 4/5.

All Day at the Movies is released today, 8th March 2018.

READ THE WORLD – Egypt: A Certain Woman by Hala El Badry

Nahid is a woman determined to go on a journey of self-discovery and understanding. She finds love and sex with novelist Omar, who is stuck in a loveless but marriage with volatile Maggie, while Nahid herself has chosen to keep up a facade of a marriage to Mustafa, a man she does not love for the sake of her middle-class family. This is Nahid’s story of discovery and self-love.

A Certain Woman is told not only from Nahid’s point of view but Omar’s, Maggie’s and Mustafa’s too. These changes in voice aren’t always obvious as there’s no clear signposts at the start of each subchapter who we’re now following. You have to figure out who’s head your now in through their conversations and wishes, sometimes it’s easier to figure out than others.

A Certain Woman is about Nahid’s quest for liberation. Not liberation from societies norms or from a man, but from her own set beliefs that inhibit her from following her heart and finding fulfilment, whether that’s in regard to independence, desire or love. She stays in her loveless marriage because of her children and a fear of trusting someone else with her happiness.

While A Certain Woman is on the short side with just over 200 pages, it’s quite a slow read due to the sometimes-delirious rambling thoughts of Nahid. She, and Omar, frequently change their mind about what they want and the way the story was written made it difficult to connect with either of them.

Nahid is an archaeologist and the sections with her being an archaeologist and finding joys in the digs she was a part of were my favourite parts of the book, but besides that I find it a bit of a slog to get through. A Certain Woman is a romance story and on the whole, that is not my go to genre of choice so maybe that’s why I didn’t particularly care for Nahid nor the situation she was in.