family drama

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.

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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.

REVIEW: Happy Christmas (2014)

When Jenny (Anna Kendrick) breaks up with her boyfriend she moves in with her brother Kevin (Mark Webber) and his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) who are raising their young son, turning their lives on their head as she’s not the most responsible person.

Happy Christmas is a low-key family drama that focuses on its leads and allows them the space to shine. It also features one of the happiest babies I’ve ever seen in a film. A lot of the interactions between the cast and the baby seem incredibly organic, as they react to his antics. It’s really sweet and true to life. That’s the thing about Happy Christmas, due to the script, how it’s shot and the cast, it feels like you’re a spectator in their day to day lives.

Jenny is an interesting character as she does little to endear you from the start, getting incredibly drunk and then being unable to babysit the next day, but she does slowly start to grow though she retains her selfish streak. Again, it great to see a character somewhat mature of a short space of time but they still retain qualities that are uniquely them.

Jenny’s relationship with Kelly is really the heart of the film. They are almost polar opposites in personality, but they find common-ground and begin to care about each other. Jenny teaches Kelly there’s more to her than being a wife and mother, and Kelly shows Jenny that good things can happen if you put more of an effort into life it can make you happy.

Happy Christmas is one of those alternate Christmas films. At its heart it’s about family and relationships, but nothing about the characters and their stories are too perfect or cliché. It’s a true to life comedy and it’s well worth the watch. 3/5.

REVIEW: Sand Storm (2016)

When a Bedouin patriarch Suliman (Hitham Omari) takes a second bride, his first wife Jalila (Ruba Blal) struggles in her new role while their oldest daughter Layla (Lamis Ammar) strives for her independence.

Sand Storm is a riveting film. While it seems like a small family drama, it’s scope is much bigger as it’s an insight into a culture that will certainly be unfamiliar to many people. While it might be a culture that’s somewhat unknown, the themes Sand Storm deals with certainly aren’t. Modernity vs tradition. Freedom of choice vs family duty. It’s painful to see these women faced with these dilemmas but at the same time it’s inspiring to see their strength and love for one another.

The conflict between Layla and her mother feels incredibly real. Layla wants to choose who she falls in love with and get an education and while at first it seems her mother is standing against her for the sake of it, you soon realise it’s because she wants her daughter to be safe. The way their relationship develops into a mutual understanding, with so much of it left unsaid is beautiful really.

Tasnim (Khadija Al Akel) is one of Layla’s younger sisters and while she’s a lot younger than Layla you can already see how fiercely strong-willed she is. She enjoys being outside with the goats, wearing jeans rather than dresses and the moment she begins to see what her future is likely to hold is a bitter pill to swallow.

Sand Storm is a touching tale, it shows the everyday life of this family and it’s through the mundanities of their life that you become connected to them, wanting them to get what they want in life. Sand Storm is a thoughtful and memorable film due to the great rapport between its characters and some touching performances. 4/5.