Book review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 Permalink

I’m possibly one of the last people on the planet to read Liane Moriarty. Indeed a TV show or film based on the popular Aussie author’s 2014 novel, Big Little Lies, is already underway somewhere on the other side of the globe.

Every time someone raved about her I mumbled guiltily that I hadn’t gotten around to reading her work, but aimed to do so when I had time.

And finally… while microwave oven shopping last week I broke my no-buying-of-books rule when I discovered LBL on sale.

Book review: Big Little Lies by Liane MoriartyBig Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty
on July 29th, 2014
ISBN: 1743533063
Pages: 480

'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?

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

It took me three nights to get through this book, which in itself is interesting as I commonly read a book in a night. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy this book or that I didn’t want to know what happened on that fateful school trivia night, but I wasn’t riveted.

In fact, I think—if the TV series is done well—this could be a rare case of me enjoying the show / film more than the book as the way Moriarty’s structured the novel lends itself to and episodic visual snippets.

I loved the main characters: the loud, brash and confident Madeline; the beautiful and secretive Celeste; and the naive and fragile Jane. I was most certainly cheering for them all and hoped none of them met a grisly end.

The novel is written in third person and from the viewpoint of all three women. It’s a circular structure in that it starts with the school trivia night and an incident to which readers aren’t yet privy; and then leaps back in time six months to slowly work back towards the present day.

At the end of each chapter Moriarty includes quotes from a range of characters involved in the preceding events.*

I guess I was expecting big things from this novel and was a tad underwhelmed.

It very much reminded me of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap—which I really didn’t enjoy. Perhaps I’m just not hardy enough to deal with the conflict and confrontation parenting and relationships can bring. I’m more of a peacemaker by nature… absorbing my anger rather than taking it out on others.

Everyone loves this book however, so perhaps my expectations were a tad too high; or perhaps I might have enjoyed the book more if I had kids.

Having said that I spent time with my niece when she was young and have friends with school aged kids (and read enough blog posts) to know that many of the school mum antics— the cliques and competitiveness—are quite real. I even chuckled at Moriarty’s description of the 4WDing mothers… the Blonde Bobs, tight gym gear and large sunglasses.

Occasionally acerbic, Moriarty brilliantly blends humour and tragedy. I particularly liked, while slightly taking the piss out of  the ‘mommy-wars’, Moriarty touches on a number of serious themes, such as domestic and family violence, socioeconomic realities and societal expectations. But mostly it’s about relationships and parenting.

I can see why Moriarty has so many fans and realise I’m being overly harsh and very subjective. This is still a 4-star book for me and (as I mentioned), the lack of additional star probably has more to do with my heightened expectations and my inability to relate to / engage with the characters than Moriarty’s writing or storytelling talent, so I look forward to catching up on some of her other work.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty was published by Pan Macmillan and is available at all of the usual places.

* As an aside, while I didn’t mind the inclusion and think the snippets will work well on-screen (a bit like True Detective s1), some very anal part of me found the layout in the version I read to be a bit ad-hoc-ish… like someone didn’t know what to do with them and just stuck them in there with names bolded and colons. And yes I know that’s me being very Type A-ish and I don’t know what I would have done instead!

  • Kate W
    January 27, 2016

    I haven’t read it so you weren’t the last person!

    • Debbish
      January 27, 2016

      Oh phew… three people on FB have told me the same thing!

  • cakaveka
    January 27, 2016

    I felt the same way Deb. I know Liane Moriarty’s very popular but I’m not a fan. Her writing’s ok but somehow seems a bit too contrived.

    • Debbish
      January 28, 2016

      I’ve actually got an audiobook of The Husband’s Secret so must try that!

  • Michelle Weaver (@pinkypoinker)
    January 28, 2016

    I enjoyed the style the book was written in because it seemed quirky and fresh to me. Although it’s not my favourite of hers. I think it’s the ordinariness about it that I liked. It was a plausible story line and I love novels set in contemporary Australia. I really should read The Slap!

    • Debbish
      January 28, 2016

      Oh god, The Slap killed me… I was so frustrated and tense during the entire book. I can’t recall now but am sure it was the story and not the writing etc… but having said that I wasn’t able to read Tsiolkas’ book of short stories released last year. Well-written I think but more intended to shock / annoy / make a point, than entertain I think!

      I think Big Little Lies will translate well onto the screen because of the quirkiness of it.

  • Char
    January 28, 2016

    I haven’t read it either. I hadn’t even heard of it until you put it on Facebook so there you go – there are people out there who are way more oblivious to things in the literary world.

    • Debbish
      January 28, 2016

      I recall there being a lot of interviews with her around the time of this book Char and it was popular amongst other book bloggers so I’d been very conscious of it Char, but hadn’t heard of her previous work until then. (Of course I’ve already admitted I used to avoid Australian authors… much preferring to escape into unknown worlds rather than my own backyard!)

  • divabooknerd
    January 28, 2016

    I rarely stray from YA and MG reads, mainly because I like to escape into fantasy worlds, but this sounds magnificent Deb. It’s one of those reads where everyone seems to have loved it, but I’ve yet to see anyone really pin point why. The fact that you enjoyed it for the most part is good enough for me. Awesome review Deb <3

  • Jess
    January 28, 2016

    I haven’t read it either. But I sometimes feel like I live in a world away from the world. I would enjoy the descriptions of the 4WDing mum’s! Sadly so much truth!

    • Debbish
      January 29, 2016

      Ah yes… I didn’t do a lot of school drop-offs for my niece (and when I did she was at primary school and it was kinda edgy) but I went to a lot of ballet concerts and eisteddfods over the years and probably saw the equivalent!

  • Kathryn
    February 8, 2016

    I came late to reading it, but did enjoy it, having been a teacher I really ‘got’ the school aspect. When book talk builds high expectations it’s hard to read a book. If this is being made into TV series or movie hope we get it. She is talented, I listened to The Husband’s Secret on audio, what you find is her books all have a certain similarity.

    • Debbish
      February 8, 2016

      I suspect the mini series will come here (Aus AND NZ Kathryn) given Nicole Kidman’s in it…

      I’m definitely keen to read some more of her work.

I'd love to hear your thoughts