Set in an idyllic Australian beachside town, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is a crime novel, but it’s also so much more. It also explores the everyday crimes that women inflect on one another…and really – that’s almost as bad as murder, isn’t it? (Probably not, but nevertheless.)
Working backwards from a school trivia night where a terrible incident occurs, Big Little Lies follows the lives of three women whose children have just started attending kindergarten at the local school. Madeline is feisty and confrontational and considering that her ex-husband and new wife’s child is in the same year as her child…well, things could get ugly. Then there’s single mum Jane, who’s only 24 and holds a terrible secret about the father of her child. Lastly, there’s Celeste – beautiful, wealthy Celeste – who appears to have the perfect life, but is actually dealing with the realities of domestic violence.
While each woman has her own secrets, they are well and truly thrown into the pressure pot by the other mothers at Pirriwee Prep and things start to get, well, just a touch ugly. And murdersome.
Big Little Lies has to be one of the funniest books I’ve read about a murder. While it is definitely about the murder, it also isn’t. It’s almost instead a story about the intricacies and schoolyard antics of young mothers. There’s the do-gooders, the career mums, the professional mothers (who are at every event) and the mothers who refuse to serve their child anything that isn’t lactose, gluten or sugar-free. As someone who isn’t a mother, this was a perspective I hadn’t ever really thought about, but it is clear that Liane Moriarty has had to deal with catty mums during the school pick up.
Yet while it seems rather trivial on the surface, the hilarious aspect of all this is that it’s all, well, so accurate. The frustrations, the bitchiness the ‘she said, he said’ aspects that always seem to occur when large groups of women get together, regardless of age. Yet what could have quickly turned into a terrible pseudo chick-lit (you know the ones where all the women are spending their days driving around in their SUVs looking for a $400 gift for their three-year old’s friend?), becomes a wickedly dark play on suburbia.
What makes this novel great isn’t necessarily the storyline, although that is pretty entertaining, but Moriarty’s writing. With true Australian humour, her writing is dry, black and definitely a bit sarcastic – but all in the right measures. She conveys the emotions of the characters – frustration, fear, sadness – in a way that is clear to the reader without being cloying. And best of all, she somehow succeeds in making an almost 500 page crime novel read as though it could be polished off in a sitting. Which is almost exactly what I did.
Have you read Big Little Lies? Have you read anything by Liane Moriarty? Are you a fan of crime novels? Let me know!