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The descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

The descendants (2007)

by Kaui Hart Hemmings

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6765014,150 (3.9)61



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Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
I have always had a soft spot for books written by women from the point of view of a male character. I find them endearing. Men writing as women can often be a little unconvincing, with lots of lines like, ‘I jogged up the steps, my breasts bouncing lightly under my summery blouse’, or, ‘Suddenly, my period started.’ Women writing as men do not make these sorts of mistakes; you don't get things like, ‘I marched into the bathroom and urinated fiercely, remaining standing throughout,’ although I half-suspect that Grey by EL James is full of that kind of thing. But it's easier for them isn't it – thanks to the historical preponderance of male writers, women have plenty of exposure to how men think, whereas many men still find women a total mystery.

Why am I talking about this. I don't know. The Descendants does have a male narrator, a convincing one, though that is not the most interesting thing about the way the story's told. An expansion of one of Hemmings's earlier short stories, the novel is a bittersweet family drama played out in Hawai‘i, about a father trying to reestablish his relationship with his daughters after their mother is hospitalised. Still, the choice of narrator is an interesting decision, since the more conventional way to tell this story, perhaps, would have been to make it a classic coming-of-age tale from the point of view of one of the girls.

The tone is set by the admirably opinionated opening line:

The sun is shining, mynah birds are chattering, palm trees are swaying, so what.

Not all of the prose that follows is quite so sparky, though. As is often the case with books that try to reproduce the ‘numb’ feeling of dealing with a tragedy, the results can feel a little flat, and this isn't helped by the present-tense narration – not a technique that I dislike on principle, but here it somehow reinforces a sense that we are meandering through the day-to-day banalities as they happen, rather than looking back on the selected highlights of a story.

The daughters are extremely well drawn – one young and not fully aware of what's happening, the other teenaged and hormonal, both observed coolly by a father who loves them but who has never really got to know them. Looming lushly behind our cast are the Hawaiian islands, here richly contextualised: they are seen on the one hand as the product of a very specific imperialist history – our protagonist traces his family back to Hawaiian royalty and to the American sugar magnates that overthrew them, a descent on which, as the title suggests, much of the plot turns – and, on the other hand, as a modern retirement home for all the wealthy baby-boomers whose children are growing up in an unearned paradise:

I wonder if our offspring have all decided to give up. They'll never be senators or owners of a football team; they'll never be the West Coast president of NBC, the founder of Weight Watchers, the inventor of shopping carts, a prisoner of war, the number one supplier of the world's macadamia nuts. No, they'll do coke and smoke pot and take creative writing classes and laugh at us.

A dig at herself, perhaps: her prose certainly shows all the hallmarks of a creative writing graduate, inoffensive and thoughtful, concerned with parents and infidelity and daily frustrations. But it's intelligently done and I enjoyed it.

Right, that's the review done. Now I'm off to urinate fiercely, remaining standing throughout. ( )
1 vote Widsith | Apr 27, 2016 |
I saw the movie first and after I read the book I can tell it was one of those rare cases in which one complements the other. At first you think you can tell what sort of story this one is, but in time you learn that it is closer to reality and this novel is able to scape clichés when it comes to father and daughters relationship. It's a good read. ( )
  Glaucialm | Feb 18, 2016 |
Really enjoyed starting right in the action, with a plot that could have been too fantastic if not written so well. The characters were interesting, and the father very real. Very human. ( )
  ellohull | Feb 10, 2016 |
I wouldn’t have read this book if it wasn’t chosen by one of my Book Club members – we’re going to discuss it after watching the film together. I’ve tried reviewing this book over the last few days, but really I don’t know what to say about it apart from that I feel a bit ambivalent towards it. It is hard to have any sympathy for Joanie, the woman in the coma. I felt little sympathy for her husband, Matt either. I think we’re meant to like Scottie and to find her endearing, but I just found her irritating. I much preferred her sister, Alex.

My favourite character was Sid – Alex’s not-quite-boyfriend who was the one redeeming character in the book. There are enjoyable parts to the book and I didn’t hate it (even though my review might suggest otherwise!), but that’s about all I can find to say about it. I find that even though I finished it less than two weeks ago, the storyline is already fading.

I wonder if it’ll be a rare case where I like the film more than the book*?!

*It was! ( )
  Bagpuss | Jan 17, 2016 |
Matthew King is the majority interest in a large Hawaiian landholding, land he inherited from his grandfather who was married to a wealthy island princess. His relatives want Matt to sell the land to developers but Matt's world is now centered around a hospital bed where his beautiful wife, Joanie, lies comatose after a speed boat accident. Joanie had been a beautiful model and socialite, the mother of their two daughters Alex and Scottie. Now the doctors have informed Matt that Joanie's brain function is minimal and that her living will requires the hospital to stop medical intervention. He is also forced to face his two daughters, 18-year-old Alex and 10-year-old Scottie, and he has no idea what is going on in their lives. Being a busy lawyer, Matt has brought absentee fatherhood to a whole new level but now everything is his responsibility. After Alex informs Matt of a secret about Joanie that has driven a wedge between mother and daughter, Matt sets out on a quest to bring painful closure to his life with Joanie.

Although the writing is superb, I just don't understand people like Matt. How can you not know what your children's lives are like? Or what your wife is up to? He is a totally clueless human being. The girls are rude, disrespectful and Scottie, especially, is out of control. An absentee father and a social butterfly mother are not the best role models for young children and these girls are trouble with a capital T. Fortunately, Matt does realize he needs to take control of the situation but this is one messy family situation.
( )
  Ellen_R | Jan 15, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812982959, Paperback)

Now a major motion picture starring George Clooney and directed by Alexander Payne

Fortunes have changed for the King family, descendants of Hawaiian royalty and one of the state’s largest landowners. Matthew King’s daughters—Scottie, a feisty ten-year-old, and Alex, a seventeen-year-old recovering drug addict—are out of control, and their charismatic, thrill-seeking mother, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident. She will soon be taken off life support. As Matt gathers his wife’s friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation is made worse by the sudden discovery that there’s one person who hasn’t been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair. Forced to examine what they owe not only to the living but to the dead, Matt, Scottie, and Alex take to the road to find Joanie’s lover, on a memorable journey that leads to unforeseen humor, growth, and profound revelations.

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(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:16 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A descendant of royalty and one of the largest landowners in Hawaii, Matthew King struggles to deal with his out-of-control daughters--ten-year-old Scottie and seventeen-year-old Alex--as well as his comatose wife, whom they are about to remove from life support.… (more)

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