Last year I read Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret and loved it. There was something about her writing style that appealed to me. Perhaps it was her ability to subtly make light of people’s malicious intent. Big Little Lies takes the maliciousness one step further with a tale about a group of Kindergarten parents that ends in violence on a school trivia night.
Moriarty builds up to this act of violence using short asides at the beginning and/or end of chapters. These asides feature some of parents from the school gossiping during an investigation carried out by a detective. The asides are mainly quirky subtexts that add to the soap opera like effect of the drama as it plays out. At first these asides can be both confusing and off-putting, but as the character developments hook you in, the foreshadowing in these asides starts to add to the intensity of what’s transpiring.
Big Little Lies rotates between the perspectives of three mothers; Madeline, Jane and Celeste. Madeline is the glue that holds everything together in this story, and she’s by far my favourite character. She’s fiery and outspoken. But what draws me to her is her self-awareness of her flaws. She’s not afraid to be a bitch and then completely own her mistakes afterwards. This creates an interesting dynamic when she’s in scenes with several other parents who are blindly self-absorbed by their own children and perspectives.
Madeline has a young boy and a girl with her current husband Ed, but she also has a fourteen year old girl with her ex-husband. This ex-husband just happens to be enrolling his new child into the same Kindergarten as Madeline’s, which causes much friction throughout the book.
Jane is a single parent whose son Ziggy is new to both the area and the Kindergarten. Jane moves into the area to get a fresh start with Ziggy; but subconsciously she’s also seeking something (or someone) that is later revealed. Jane suffers great difficulty fitting in with the other parents after her son Ziggy is accused of bullying another child. Luckily she has Madeline to take her under her wing.
Celeste and her husband Perry are described as glamorous and financially stable parents of twin boys. Parents are often taken aback by Celeste’s beauty and fathers are often glaring at her for longer than what’s acceptable. But Celeste harbours a secret that would surprise many of her friends. Celeste is subject to domestic abuse and is conflicted on how to deal with it throughout the story.
As the lives of these three women play out the stories intertwine nicely. The link between the three mothers and their individual dilemmas pays off once you reach the events that transpire on at the school trivia night. Liane Moriarty is great a painting a picture and allowing you to visualise the events in your head. Her quirky writing flows well, and the short chapters will have you flying through the book despite its length.
Many of the other parents are one-dimensional and and portrayed as self-absorbed, but with the focus being on Madeline, Jane and Celeste’s family, its often forgivable.
While Big Little Lies is nowhere near as compelling as The Husband’s Secret, credit must be given to Moriarty for her ability to introduce heavy subject matter and keep the tone of the book consistent. This is an extremely light-hearted read, but it deals with complex issues that plague regular society without downplaying them. Very few writers are able to show us the worst human behaviour and then make light of it so gracefully.
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Admittedly, if Big Little Lies was the first book I’d read from Liane Moriarty then I wouldn’t exactly be in a rush to read more. But after reading both The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies I have a greater understanding of her talents as a writer and I still admire her ability to create unlikable characters that you can’t help but enjoy. With more appreciated works from Moriarty out there such as What Alice Forgot, Big Little Lies may not be one to run to; but it if you’re seeking something laid back to enjoy on a long trip or holiday then this may be a book to consider.
A Big Little Lies TV show staring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon is currently in production and will be aired sometime in 2017, so I would certainly recommend reading this before the show comes out if you already have it in your sights.