I don’t usually go in for first-person narratives. In general, I prefer a handful of main characters as oppose to a clearly defined protagonist whose story is the story. The Descendants is, on this and many other levels, not the kind of book I usually read.
Matt King, a rich attorney, lives in Hawaii, and has two daughters with his beautiful wife, Joanie. The sun sets in paradise, however. Joanie is in a coma, and it’s time to shut off the machines.
And there’s one other thing. Matt loved Joanie, and loves her still, but Joanie was having an affair.
‘What do I want? Just to see him? To humiliate him? To measure myself against him? Maybe I just want to ask him if she ever loved me.’
There are a lot of things I adore about this book, though I’m surprised. I was expecting something like Me Before You when I went in, but this is something much more nuanced than a romance novel. It’s about harder, subtler types of love. Loving someone after they have stopped loving you, loving someone who is difficult to love, and loving someone who you didn’t ask the right questions, when you had the chance.
It’s also a really funny book which, despite its subject matter, doesn’t take itself too seriously. Matt loves his daughters, however wayward they have become, and Matt’s unwilling, comedic transition into the role of sole parent is one of the main themes.
The Descendants is, on one level, the story of a man wondering, not without cynicism, ‘how am I going do this?’
There’s a lot of pain in this book, not just in Matt, but in Scottie, his ten-year-old who copes with the situation with by fantasising, and in Alex, his older daughter, who hasn’t forgiven her mother for anything.
The backdrop of the Hawaiian islands makes for a strangely picturesque background to the difficult situations the family must endure, and acts in sharp contrast to the serious, stormy task of tracking down the man who Joanie really loved.
This novel is one of the more mature I have read about modern family life. It’s sensitive without being soppy, kind without being over nice, and very real in its portrayal of just how hard it is to love someone whose betrayal must go unexplained.
Really, I can’t praise it highly enough. Easily my best read of the summer so far.
‘Go,’ she says, and even though I’m on the verge of either snapping or bawling, I go. I take this strange detour and hope for the best.’