By Liane Moriarty Pan Macmillan Australia 2015 Adult Fiction
Score: 10/10 Genre: Australian suburban drama/suspense
This is part of Shorts Series of book reviews (skimping on all aspects except Use for Writers)
There is death and mayhem at the primary school trivia night. Big Little Lies deals with the circumstances leading up to this tragic event. There is school-yard bullying, over-involved parents, dark secrets hidden behind closed doors, fraught relationships and firm friendships.
My first 10/10 book for the blog!
This book deals in part with dark subjects of domestic and sexual violence. But, like real life, these don’t exist in isolation. The farcical ‘mummy wars’ and the cringe-worthy helicopter parents are both humorous and all too familiar. The mystery is suspenseful and teased out in chapters in varying POV’S. But above all the dialogue and characterisations sparkle with authenticity and wit.
Use for writers: Liane Moriarty depresses me. Sometimes when I read a good novel I can convince myself of one of two things:
– I couldn’t write it because I don’t have the life experience or the time/resources to research the subject material.
– I think I can emulate aspects of the novel.
-Moriarty doesn’t write about the unfamiliar – this is suburban coastal Australian. It could’ve been set at my local primary school, in my suburb. So, the first excuse is null.
– And for the second: Moriarty so deftly handles structure and characterisation that it would be easy to try and do what she does, and fail.
The structure of both, Big Little Lies, and her novel, Truly Madly Guilty, follow the pattern of: A terrible event has taken place. What are the things that lead to this event (flashbacks and forwards). The who, how, and exactly what of the event. The fallout from the event.
Moriarty reveals each part of the mystery and each character’s secrets just at the right time. The changes in points of view enhance the pacing and add to the suspense. The dialogue and inner thoughts of the main characters are so witty that I wanted to reread sections just for fun. I particularly loved the use of the humorous snippets (flash forwards) of the police interviews for the minor characters. If you are thinking of writing a Multiple POV novel it would perhaps pay to do a table/map of POV changes and time shifts throughout Big Little Lies to get a sense of its structure.
Multiple POVs and fragmented timelines have the potential to make for a confusing read but not here because:
-We are kept orientated with statements about the length of time till the trivia night eg FIVE MONTHS BEFORE TRIVIA NIGHT.
– The voices and the houses/circumstances of the main characters are so different that you never lose track of where you are and whose head you’re in.
Madeline, the sassy older mum with fierce loyalty to her friends is a wonderful character. In this excerpt she is with her new friend, Jane and older friend, Celeste – on her birthday, feeling sorry for herself due to an injured ankle. The last passage shows how Moriarty cleverly segues into the future police interviews.
‘Let’s have some now!’ Madeline lifted the bottle by the neck suddenly inspired.
‘No, no,’ said Celeste. ‘Are you crazy? It’s too early for drinking. We have to pick the kids up in two hours. And it’s not chilled.’
‘Champagne breakfast’ said Madeline. ‘It’s all in the way you package it. We’ll have champagne and orange juice. Half a glass each! Over two hours. Jane? Are you in?’
‘I guess I could have a sip,’ said Jane. ‘I’m a cheap drunk.’
‘I bet you are, because you weigh about ten kilos,’ said Madeline ‘We’ll get on well. I love cheap drunks. More for me.’
‘Madeline,’ said Celeste. ‘Keep it for another time.’
‘But it’s the Festival of Madeline,’ said Madeline sadly. ‘And I’m injured.’
Celeste rolled her eyes. ‘Pass me a glass.’
Thea: Jane was tipsy when she picked up Ziggy from orientation… Young single mother drinking first up in the morning. Chewing gum too. Not a good first impression. That’s all I’m saying.
Footnote: After this I read Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty – also brilliantly structured. I give it 9/10. I favour Big Little Lies because the overwhelming feeling when reading Truly Madly Guilty was one of dread (it involved the possible drowning of a young child). This dread keeps you turning pages but perhaps not as entertaining as the mystery and humour which infuses Big Little Lies.
I am currently reading the, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, also by Liane Moriarty.