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Saturday, August 2, 2014

'Big Little Lies' by Liane Moriarty


From the BLURB:

'I guess it started with the mothers.'
'It was all just a terrible misunderstanding.'
'I'll tell you exactly why it happened.'

Pirriwee Public's annual school Trivia Night has ended in a shocking riot. A parent is dead. Was it murder, a tragic accident... or something else entirely?

Big Little Lies is a funny, heartbreaking, challenging story of ex-husbands and second wives, new friendships, old betrayals and and schoolyard politics. No. 1 New York Times bestselling author turns her unique gaze on the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves every day and what really goes on behind closed suburban doors.

'Let me be clear. This is not a circus. This is a murder investigation.'

The Pirriwee Peninsular is a fictional slice of Sydney-sider heaven. A laid-back beach community with a mix of well-to-do’s and blue collar families, all of whom congregate at the only Primary School, Pirriwee Public.

This school year has already kicked off with a bang, when the new crop of little darlings were embroiled in a bullying scandal on orientation day – that’s right, one little girl was sporting bruises and finger-pointed a classmate (a little boy, whose mother was also new to the area and so young she was mistaken for a nanny!).

But this little incident would prove only the tip of the iceberg for the new school year – especially when you consider the bullying that went on amongst the parents in retaliation to allegations thrown against their own children.

Is it any wonder the Trivia Night ended in the murder of a parent?

Backtrack six months to where it all began, and follow three mothers who would prove too close for comfort to the ongoing investigation.

Madeline is as glittery as she is fiery, never happier than when she’s wearing righteous indignation – and lately she’s had cause to wear it often. Not only is she at the beginning of the terrible teenage years with her 14-year-old daughter, Abigail, but Abigail’s father (who walked out of their marriage and left Madeline the single-mother to their baby) is living on the Peninsular too – having moved there with his new wife, and their toddler daughter who will be attending Pirriwee Public with Madeline’s own daughter from her second marriage. There really should be a law against ex-husband’s and their new (replacement) families sharing school zones.

Celeste is one-half of dazzling couple with her jet-setting husband, Perry. They live in a sprawling house, have the best of everything and Perry makes up for his long absences with beautiful bits of jewellery for his stunning wife. They have twin boys who are starting at Pirriwee Public this year and Perry’s Facebook account can attest to their perfectly happy family … except it’s all a lie.

Jane is twenty-five and single-mother to beautiful little boy, Ziggy. Painfully thin and self-conscious, she up and moved to Pirriwee on impulse and because she thought Ziggy would quite like the beach. Her family have been concerned about her ever since she confessed to being pregnant from a one-night-stand she has no wish to go into more detail about … save to say, Ziggy won’t be meeting his biological father anytime soon, not so long as Jane has something to say about it.

These three women form a united front when, on the Pirriwee Public orientation day, one of their children is singled out as a bully – and then subjected to ongoing and unsubstantiated bullying by Pirriwee Public parents who want them expelled from the school.

It’s going to be a hell of a year.

‘Big Little Lies’ is the new fiction book from Australian author Liane Moriarty.

The Moriarty name has long been associated with literary excellence and bookish-obsession for many Australian readers. Jaclyn Moriarty is the extremely popular young adult author of ‘Ashbury/Brookfield’ fame, and recently Nicola Moriarty has rounded out the triumvirate literary powerhouse. But lately the rest of the world has started sitting up and paying some serious attention to Liane Moriarty, the sister who since 2003 had been quietly releasing wonderful adult fiction titles (and the occasional children’s book) … until last year when her novel ‘The Husband’s Secret’ made it to #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list and catapulted this Australian women’s fiction author into a new stratosphere of international literary fame.

The praise was deserved, as ‘The Husband’s Secret’ (a favourite book of 2013 for me) was a tight, psychological suburban-gothic thriller that was as much an examination of marriage as it was of guilty-conscience. And now Liane Moriarty has come out with ‘Big Little Lies’ – which has already received a Kirkus starred review and seems destined (and deserving) of another trip to the top of the NYT Bestseller list for Moriarty … with this book she turns her eye to women’s secrets, family microcosms and the funny little world of child rearing in an era of mummy-bloggers and bullying as the hottest of hot-button topics.

Let me just say – this is one of my favourite books of 2014. Hands down.

I don’t have children, but I come from a family of teachers (many of whom teach Primary school) and I absolutely delighted in this book for the way it so seamlessly (and frighteningly) matched up with the anecdotes my family bring home from their jobs. The helicopter parents, and precocious little darlings and the “everyone get’s a trophy!” ethos of modern-day parenting/schooling – it was vicariously delicious, and I envision many readers squirming for how Moriarty portrays these caricatures of modern-day family with pin-prick accuracy. And, believe me, Liane Moriarty gets some descriptions so perfectly, so acerbically, right:

‘So are these women nice?’ asked Celeste. ‘Or should we steer clear?’ 
‘Well, they mean well,’ said Madeline. ‘They mean very, very well. They’re like, hmmm, what are they like? They’re like Mum Prefects. They feel very strongly about their roles as school mums. It’s like their religion. They’re fundamentalist mothers.’
 
It’s the sort of book you read and, with descriptions like that, you’ll instantly have a private light-bulb moment and chuckle because it’s just like someone you know (and when that happens, please, recommend the book to them).

The story begins on the fateful trivia night, when someone dies – and then backtracks to six months before and the bullying incident that sparked a parental warfare in the playground of Pirriwee Public. Each chapter from then on offers a glimpse into the present-day investigation going on into the murder, with hilarious excerpts from the detective interviewing the parents (who also offer the odd tid-bit of gossip and personal opinions on all players involved).

Gabrielle: I was new to the school. I didn’t know a soul. ‘Oh, we’re such a caring school,’ the principal told me. Blah, blah, blah. Let me tell you, the first thing I thought when I walked into that playground on that kindergarten orientation day was cliquey. Cliquey, cliquey, cliquey. I’m not surprised someone ended up dead. Oh, all right. I guess that’s overstating it. I was a little surprised.

The book follows three mothers – Jane, Celeste and Madeline – each with their own problems and secrets, and maps their friendship and how they three came to be on one side of the parental warfare.

I ‘discovered’ Liane Moriarty in 2011 with ‘The Hypnotist'sLove Story’, which I loved. I’ve since gone back and read Moriarty’s backlist … but I’ve got to say, I think ‘The Hypnotist's Love Story’ marked a turning point for her that reaches a brilliant crescendo with ‘Big Little Lies’. Her earlier books were a lot funnier, and much more typical ‘women’s fiction’ (sigh, do I dare use the word ‘beach reads’?). They’re good, don’t get me wrong, but I think Moriarty started exploring much darker stories and sharper edges with ‘The Hypnotist's Love Story’ which then led to the very gothic ‘The Husband’sSecret’ and now ‘Big Little Lies’ feels like the best of both worlds – this book is funny, particularly for Moriarty’s social commentary around family, female obligation and school. But this book is also very dark – I always read feminist undertones in Moriarty’s work, and in ‘Big Little Lies’ especially she touches on domestic abuse, single-mother stigma, the conflict of “working women can’t have it all”, female beauty and sexuality, pornography and a slew of other topics … coupled with the over-arching murder storyline, this is a brilliantly placed book for being so dark and so funny and so darkly funny.

Jane looked up and her heart sank.
It shouldn’t matter. She knew it shouldn’t matter. But the fact was that some people were so unacceptably, hurtfully beautiful, it made you feel ashamed. Your inferiority was right there on display for the world to see. This was what a woman was meant to look like. Exactly this. She was right, and Jane was wrong.

This was such an enjoyable read. One moment I’d be cackling manically and then when I finished reading a chapter I’d think on the events for hours afterwards, for all the controversies Moriarty had raised. I loved this book, it really does cement Liane Moriarty as someone who is very deserving of her new literary fame (though I say that reservedly, she’s always been beloved in Australia – it’s mostly America who is suddenly taking notice of her).

I’m calling ‘Big Little Lies’ as my favouritest-favourite book of 2014 thus far. A big call, but it’s a bloody great book.

5/5

 

US and UK covers 


4 comments:

  1. This review is really outstanding. You nailed everything about it -- including just how fun and addictively she writes. I do not know many writers who could take such serious topics and deal with them in such a heartfelt and honest and hilarious way!

    Am insanely excited for whatever she writes next (and will comfort myself with rereads in the meantime. :)

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    1. Thank you - all those talented Moriarty sisters are brilliant as re-reads again and again and again :)

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