Linda's Reviews > The Descendants

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
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's review
Apr 25, 12

liked it

Acquired in haste for a plane journey, this is a decent debut novel, if unspectacular and steadfastly unsurprising. Matt King is a "hands-off" father who finds his moderately happy life veering off-course when his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident. Matt has to get to know his two daughters, Alex and Scottie, and find a way to take care of them whilst dealing with the fate befalling his wife, Joanie. The blurb for this novel (along with with publicity for the film) gives away a key plot development that takes some time to appear in the book and which I won't divulge, but I suppose it is one of the story's hooks / selling points. The Descendants benefits from a strong sense of place and the unusual and well-evoked setting of Hawaii. Not the Hawaii of tourists' visits but a place that is home to the King family; indeed Matt King has a large share in a key land plot in Hawaii too. This place is in his blood. The author oversells this a little to make her point, but it gives Matt something a little different as a protagonist and seems more believable than his legal career (as a lawyer myself, I don't recognise any of the attorney's personality in this guy except maybe his overall sense of disappointment in life and perhaps that hits us all at certain ages). Hawaii then is well-represented in the book, but what of the flesh-and-blood characters? Well, these are more disappointing. Alex is the most underwritten character and I think seriously suffers by the inclusion of her admirer, Sid, who I personally couldn't stand. Sid's eccentricities and own issues overshadow conflicted Alex, a character torn between love and hate for her mother and between running away from her and wanting to be her. Early interesting references to Alex's drug problem and modelling aspirations give way to lots of descriptions of Sid's cannabis habits. I struggled to believe that Matt would tolerate Sid's presence through such a difficult family time, no matter Alex's protestations that she needed him around (I would seriously worry about a daughter who needed that guy around). Scottie is written as a typical cutesy kid who says inappropriate things that she doesn't totally understand. A more well-rounded character than Alex but in places something of a device more than a person. Matt's voice did the job in terms of telling the story. I mostly believed that he was a middle-aged guy although in a few places he fails to stand up for himself in ways that suggested a more magnanimous character than perhaps we'd seen overall. As for the other characters: there are a few too many bit players such as Matt's cousins and friends of Matt and his wife, Joanie. The writing loses some force in scenes regarding driving someplace and telling someone something and then everyone jumping in the sea again. Overall, I found this undemanding easy reading and Hawaii really did come across from the pages to my brain, which I enjoyed. The plot twists and turns were all, to my mind, extremely predictable but perhaps we were meant to see the obvious before Matt did.

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