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  • Articles by Sonali

    Book review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

    Big Little Lies (2014) is a novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty. The book is actually set in Sydney, in a scenic beachside town called ‘Perriwee Peninsula’. The story centres on Perriwee Primary School and its community of children, teachers and parents. The school has an ocean view. Despite the affluent, idyllic and sunny environment there is a disquieting undercurrent with people hiding big secrets.

    The three main protagonists, mothers Madeline, Jane and Celeste meet at a kindergarten orientation day. Madeleine and Celeste are residents of Perriwee. Jane is new to the area. Jane’s son Ziggy is involved in an incident during orientation day which has implications for her future in Perriwee Peninsula.

    From the outset, the story seems to be a parody of life in the community. These chararacters appear exaggerated, more like caricatures written in the mould of those in 'Desperate Housewives'. Moriarty may well have had a TV adaptation in mind when writing Big Little Lies.

    The book fits neatly into the ‘chick lit’ genre. Moriarty focuses on issues relevant to women but she does take an honest look at some topical subjects. Celeste is the victim of domestic violence and her situation is described with insight and sensitivity, giving substance to the novel. Moriarty also manages to cram in a whole host of other issues and sub-plots.

    There is also a baffling array of peripheral characters, consisting of the other mums, dads, schoolteachers who all fulfill a function in the novel. Renata, Thea, Samantha, Stu, Jonathan form a chorus at the end of each chapter, offstage so to speak, providing quips and commentary.

    They allude to a mystery, a major incident that happens in the final chapter, at the Audrey and Elvis Trivia night for parents. You’re enticed to read on. In an original flourish from Moriarty these ‘off the cuff’ quips also help lighten the mood.

    Madeline, Celeste and Jane are the real focus, depicted in depth and detail. Their individual stories seem convincing enough even if you might not know anyone like them. They also relate well to each other giving a sense of their sisterhood, especially when Jane is shunned by the Perriwee community over the Ziggy incident. Single mum Jane is the youngest of the three and her story is probably the most engaging. We learn about her mysterious past. The main male characters (Celeste’s husband Perry, Madeleine’s husband Ed and ex-husband Nathan) are mostly defined by their actions, instead of their thoughts and feelings.

    In comparison, the US HBO TV adaption (2017) of Big Little Lies is set in Monterey, California. This change of location hasn't been an issue though. The main characters are universal types in the book and sufficiently neutral to make the story work in a US setting.

    A real plus point is Moriarty's true to life representation of Madeleine, Celeste and Jane (which in turn might have boosted the success of the TV adaptation with Reece Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley respectively).

    Her straightforward, uncomplicated approach is another strength. This is an easy read. The book also manages to deftly cover some topical, heavy issues, while offering some lighter moments. The preparations for the Audrey and Elvis trivia night is a highlight, depicted to great comic effect. Sure, the writing is cheesy in places and the book could use a thorough edit but it’s compelling and entertaining enough, good for reading on a summer beach holiday.

    It’s also rumoured that Moriarty could be writing a sequel to Big Little Lies given the popularity of the TV adaptation.

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