Big Little Lies is one of those stories that any serious crime fiction reader glances at, looks at the cover and automatically believes it will be too girly for them. It looks all sweet and innocent with the book jacket giving off more of a girly-girl vibe than a hard-hitting whodunit. However, as they say, first impressions can be deceiving, and on this one occasion it may be worth delving into the pages to find out more before passing judgement, as I quickly discovered.
It is not very often I pick up a book, read it from cover to cover in a matter of hours and then say I love it but on this occasion, Big Little Lies fully deserves it. Liane Moriarty has done something very few other authors, in my opinion, have been able to do up to this point. She has been able to combine a chick-lit with crime and it works, turning it into a dark comedy.
Big Little Lies – The Story
Set in the fictional beachside area of ‘Pirriwee’, the mothers of the local primary school come together in a tale of both friendship and misery. When living in an affluent neighbourhood in sunny Australia, with only the stresses of childhood antics to deal with, you have to question what could possibly go wrong.
Instantly, within the opening chapter, through the eyes of Mrs Ponder, a retiree living next door to the school, and a few of the parents attending the event, you gain a sense of true foreboding for what will ultimately unravel.
“…one Elvis was punched by another across the jaw. He staggered back, into an Audrey. Two Elvises grabbed him from behind and pulled him away…
“Should I call the police?’ wondered Mrs Ponder out loud, but then she heard the wail of a siren in the distance, at the same time as a woman on the balcony began to scream and scream.” (page 7)
By the end of the very first chapter we are left with these parting words:
“Detective Sergeant Adrian Quinlan: Let me be clear. This is not a circus. This is a murder investigation”. (Page 9)
Intrigued piqued, there is no choice after reading this opening, you just have to continue.
Initially, set six months before the trivia night incident, we are introduced to the main characters who just happen to be the mothers of Pirriwee Primary.
The Main Characters
Madeline, a strong head-strong woman, is a second-time around wife and school mum. Her oldest daughter, Abigail, now in her teens becomes a nightmare child, but not in the normal sense, but decides that she would prefer to live with her father, Nathan. The very same father who walked out on her when she was just a baby because he couldn’t cope. Chloe and Fred, her children by second husband Ed, are both still at the age where they want mum around. Chloe, the youngest, joins the latest class at Pirriwee Primary and becomes a natural leader of others.
When not running around after her children, Madeline does have a part-time job with a theatre company, but she spends most of her time socialising.
Jane, single mum and newbie in town, is an unlikely friend to Madeline. Preferring to stay in the shadows, Jane is overcome with worry and uncertainty when Ziggy, her son, is thrown into the limelight for all the wrong reasons. She had believed that a move towards the sea would help them both but perhaps this was yet another wrong decision. Filled with anxiety, and hoping that the uncomfortable confrontations with other parents will eventually die out, she persists. The desire for a reasonably normal life, with friends that care seems to be incentive enough.
Making up the unlikely trio is Celeste, a woman that other women love to hate. Celeste has it all – money, looks, a husband that deeply cares for her and two delightful twin boys – what more could she possibly want?
As with any relationship, what people see on the outside is not necessarily the whole truth. Friends see Celeste living the dream, with a husband that although he has to travel frequently, does make a fortune, living in a beautiful home without a care in the world. Look more closely however, and you will see a woman who is frightened to speak her mind in-case her husband snaps and lashes out at her; an outwardly confident individual who often pushes her husband to breaking point which leads to an argument and a lashing out.
Others may want Celeste’s life but Celeste is trying to break free of it – will she succeed?
This unlikely friendship begins when Madeline tries playing ‘Good Samaritan’, but only ends up twisting her own ankle. Unsure whether she should assist, Jane watches on pitifully from the front seat of her own car, conscious that she is likely to be late for Ziggy’s first morning at school.
“If it weren’t for Ziggy she would have driven off. She would have been so focused on her goal of getting him to his kindergarten orientation morning she would have left a woman sitting in the gutter, writhing in pain.” (Page 17)
Within seconds her thoughts get the better of her and Jane has pulled over to give the slightly older, albeit ‘glittery’ lady a helping hand.
Fast-forward in time, and these same two women can be seen hobbling into Blue Blues, a popular cafe right on the seafront, where Madeline fully intends on buying her a coffee to thank her for her help. That is until Celeste shows up armed with a bottle of champagne ready to celebrate Madeline’s 40th birthday.
Although jealousy quickly courses through Celeste’s veins, she holds back her venom long enough to realise that in actual fact Jane is a genuinely nice person. With their friendship flourishing they all head back to the school to pick up their little terrors and for Jane, especially, this is where her nightmare beginnings.
Over the course of the next six months we follow the trials and tribulations of each of these women knowing that ultimately something is going to happen to at least one of them.
For Madeline, we realise that being a successful mother is just as important as being a socialite whilst for Celeste you begin to wonder whether she will ever be able to leave the abusive relationship behind for a peaceful life.
Jane is slightly harder to read; even her parents cannot understand her sudden change in appearance and personality. Once a bubbly, slightly plump young lady she has turned into a reclusive, waif of a girl who cares very little about her appearance or mixing with others. Madeline, the voracious, out-going matriarch takes Jane under her wing, determined to improve not only her self-esteem but her outward appearance as well. It soon becomes apparent that there is more to this young person’s demeanour than Madeline initially believes, but will she find out what it is?
Will Jane’s friends ever find out her dark secret? Will Celeste finally break free of her domestic nightmare?
Who ends up dead, and who committed the atrocious act?
“If the balcony railing had been just a few inches higher. If the bar stool had been at a slightly different angle. If it hadn’t been raining. If he hadn’t been drinking… But it happened the way that it happened.” (Page 429)
Our Final Thoughts About Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies is a gripping story of friendship, motherhood and something slightly sinister. Once you start reading you will find yourself fully immersed into the storyline and wondering what will happen next.
For anyone that feels this reads too much like yet another chick-lit then think again. As someone that has a penchant for crime novels this book was not only entertaining but also had a well-constructed murderous undertone to it.
Whether your normal preference is to reach for a tear-jerking, all female fictional tale or a hard-hitting criminal masterpiece this could be a novel to cross bridges and help redefine genres in the future.
If you are after something different to add to your bookshelf, this is a novel that I would highly recommend.
If you think this is a story for you, my suggestion would be to pick up a copy today. Film rights are already being discussed and actresses are being enlisted, so if you are a bookworm that prefers to read a book before seeing the film you may not have much time.
This time next year, who knows, perhaps for once us bibliophiles will be saying that the film was better than the book (although I very much doubt it!!!!).
Have you read a similar themed novel that you believe I would enjoy? I would love to hear your suggestions.
2017 Big Little Lies Update
Back in 2015, this had been a book of the year for me, so imagine my delight when I found out that it was indeed being filmed. Strangely though, unlike many other fantastic novels, Big Little Lies is not to become yet another film that bookworms around the world criticise and analyse, looking for anomalies from book to script. No, HBO have decided to make this particular novel into a TV series instead.
Will this be a good or bad decision?
Who knows, but with the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley starring, it is going to be big. Personally I don’t believe I have ever watched a TV Series before with so many well-known film actors in it.
Have you read Big Little Lies? Are you looking forward to seeing it come alive on your TV? I would love to hear from others about their thoughts on this!