family drama

REVIEW: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

One summer’s day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for ‘asylum’. Decades will pass before Holly understands what sort of asylum the woman was seeking….

The Bone Clocks had been sitting on my shelves for four years. I’d read, and enjoyed, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell but from that I knew his stories could be fantastical and epic and I was never really in the mood for the concentration I’d need to have to read a story like that. In the end, I got the audiobook from my library and that got finally got me to read this story. The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Jessica Ball, Leon Williams, Colin Mace, Steven Crossley, Laurel Lefkow and Anna Bentinck, and I thought they all did a fantastic job at bringing the many characters to life.

The Bone Clocks is so much more than its two-sentence blurb suggests, but at the same time, I have no idea of how to give this story a concise and somewhat spoiler-free summary. The Bone Clocks is a story that spans decades, and while the story might not always be told from her point of view, Holly Sykes is always connected to the characters you’re introduced to in some way. It’s equal parts confusing and fun, especially in the first half of the book, seeing how this character you are now following is connected to Holly and how their relationship with her will unfold. While Holly is the central character that a lot of the big events and decisions revolve around, the other characters each have their own story and personality that’s usually just as engaging as Holly’s.

Holly Sykes is a character that grew on me. She’s young and naïve when you first meet her, and somewhat unlikeable too but seeing how her experiences, good, bad and unexplainable, affect her life, she becomes more sympathetic and mature. She suffers a trauma at a young age and doesn’t know how her life will be affected by granting the strange old lady, Esther Little, asylum. She becomes entangled in something much bigger than herself, and it take a while for everything to become clearer, and even then, there’s some events and characters that almost can’t be explained. The other characters are fully-formed with some being unlikeable while others are almost undefinable. Ed Brubeck was probably my favourite character as he felt the most realistic and relatable to me.

The Bones Clocks is well-written with some beautiful passages and engaging characters. It is weird and fantastical, but at its core there’s Holly Sykes and her very human life. There’s so much going on in The Bone Clocks, it’s hard to give it a definitive genre. There is magic, secret wars, family drama, death, and souls play a major role too. The Bone Clocks is an epic story, but it is an odd and sometimes confusing one too. You spend so much of the novel, not know what’s really happening or how everything is connected, that when things are explained, there is a lot of exposition.

Still, I did enjoy the audiobook and I think consuming the story that way helped me take it in and become more enthralled by it than if I was reading a physical copy. 3/5.

Advertisements

REVIEW: Christmas with the Coopers (2015)

The intertwined stories of four generations of the Cooper family as they come together for their annual gathering on Christmas Eve.

Christmas with the Coopers is one of those perfectly fine Christmas films. As with many films set around the holidays where a large, extended family get together, there’s arguments, secrets and misunderstandings.

There’s a lot of plot threads about the different characters, potentially a few too many but on the whole, it works and that’s due to the cast all giving good performances. My favourite plot was Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) finding a fake boyfriend at the airport so she doesn’t have to go home single. Her relationship with Joe is lovely as she slowly starts to open up to him, and they end up being a couple you root for. The friendship between Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) and Bucky (Alan Arkin) is sweet and does a good job at not veering into being uncomfortable.

I have to mention the ages of the various actors and how as a fictional family, they make no sense. I’m not usually that fussed about actors ages, but in Christmas with the Coopers I did find it difficult to realise who was related to who and how because some people looked too similar our different in age. For instance, Diane Keaton and Marisa Tomei are supposed to be sisters with not much more than a five-year age difference. When Tomei’s character was mentioning a sister, I could not figure out which character out of the rest of the cast she could mean until the very end of the film.

Christmas with the Coopers is sweet, funny and it’s an easy watch kind of Christmas film that’s all about the highs and lows of a big family. 3/5.

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.

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.