Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Liane Moriarty has been on my radar since 2013, when The Husband’s Secret was a massive hit. In the intervening years, I have heard many good things about her domestic thrillers and thought it was high time I got round to actually reading them. Not least because her 2014 novel, Big Little Lies, will be getting the full HBO drama treatment soon (the rather starry cast includes Reece Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgard and Zoe Kravitz).

If the TV show is even half as gripping as the novel, it will be a must-watch. Big Little Lies weighs in at a slightly daunting 450 pages, but zips along as if it was only 200. It is seldom that I find a book truly unputdownable, but this one certainly fell into that category: were it not for the sheer annoyance of having to go to work, I would have happily read it in one sitting.

Set in the author’s native Australia, the novel focuses on a group of parents whose children all attend the same primary school. With caustic wit and a sharp satirical edge, Moriarty depicts playground politics, with their various cliques and conflicts. In doing so, she examines the often far-reaching and tragic consequences of the “little” lies we tell ourselves and each other.

The last time she had anything close to an enemy she was in primary school herself. It had never crossed her mind that sending your child to school would be like going back to school yourself.

Right from the start, we know that a murder investigation has been launched following a violent confrontation between parents at the school’s Trivia Night. Witness accounts are interspersed with flashbacks as the truth is gradually revealed. The novel is beautifully paced and a series of mini-cliffhangers kept me hooked throughout.

Although the novel has a wry, satirical streak (the HBO adaptation is billed as a comedy-drama, which reflects the tone of the source material), it covers a wide range of issues: domestic abuse, sexual violence, victim blaming, coping with step-families, morality, bullying, the nature of beauty. The list could go on.

My only real quibble with this book is that, sometimes, these issues felt like they were being shoehorned into the narrative. An artificial note was sounded on these occasions; it felt that characters were Telling Us Why Victim Blaming Is Wrong rather than having a conversation.

For the most part though, the characters are far more than mere mouthpieces. The three main characters, Madeleine, Celeste and Jane, could easily have been mere ciphers. Other reviewers have suggested that these women have the whiff of the stereotype about them. For me, they became flesh and blood in. Moriarty’s capable hands and their friendship felt touchingly real.

In short, I could kick myself for waiting so long to read Moriarty’s work. Not only is this novel gripping from start to finish, it is written with considerable skill. I will certainly be checking out her other work quick sharp. And I will definitely be tuning into the HBO adaptation: my initial impression from reading the book is that it is perfectly cast.

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