I’m going to be honest; this isn’t a book I really intended on reading. Contemporary and chick lit aren’t genres that I visit very often, unless they’re written by Nora Roberts. The only reason I decided to pick this up is because I want to watch the HBO series, and I have this thing about not watching a show or movie until I read the material that inspired it. Whatever my reason for giving it a try, I’m very glad I did. I would have been missing out. Big Little Lies is fun and insanely addictive, perfect for reality television junkies or anyone who loves watching train wrecks and happily ever afters in equal measure.
Our story begins in the aftermath of an Australian public school’s Trivia Night. We know that there was a drunken brawl and a death, but that’s all we know. The story then rewinds back in time, six months before the Trivia Night. We are introduced to three mothers, whose children will be beginning kindergarten together. There is drama in the class before school even begins, as one little girl is bullied at orientation, out of the teacher’s sight. Things blow completely out of proportion from there.
At the end of each chapter, we are given snippets of interviews held after the Trivia Night, which adds a level of unexpected intrigue to the book. As the chapters progressed from four months before the Trivia Night to six weeks before the Trivia Night to the day before the Trivia Night, tension continues to build so palpably that it became almost impossible for me to put the book down. I was desperate to find out who died, and how, and why.
The three aforementioned mothers are our perspective characters. Madeline is a mother of three, whose youngest is starting kindergarten this year and will be in the same class as her ex-husband’s daughter with his much younger wife. Madeline is vivacious and loud and loyal and way too outspoken. Celeste is a wealthy stay-at-home mother to identical twin boys, and she has a seemingly perfect life and perfect marriage. (Side note: this is the first book I’ve ever read where I shared a name with a perspective character and I have to say that it was super weird.) Jane is a very young single mother who just moved to the area. Madeline and Celeste are already friends, and they form a tight bond with Jane upon their first meeting.
As we get to know these women, as we are given windows into their lives and see all the things they keep hidden beneath the surface, all three characters become more and more compelling. Each new piece of information is like a petal unfurled, until Madeline and Celeste and Jane all feel tangible and incredibly real by the time we reach the Trivia Night that readers have been both anticipating and dreading since the first page. I think this was some of the best character development I’ve come across outside of the fantasy genre. It seems like the school-related problems of a kindergarten parent could come across as laughable but, because we’ve been shown so much depth in regards to these characters, those problems have a weight to them that would have been lacking without this level of character development.
I want to mention that this book dealt with some really difficult issues, starting with bullying, touching on rape, and spending quite a lot of time on domestic abuse. I thought all of these subjects were handled with finesse, though trigger warnings are definitely necessary for more sensitive readers. I’ve borne witness to the repercussions of all three of these issues in the lives of friends and family and students and foster children, and experienced both bullying as a child and a very unhealthy romantic relationship in my teens. Because of this, I feel that I can say that all of these hot-button topics were handled with a great mix of empathy and reality.
This is the first book I’ve read from Liane Moriarty since, as I pointed out earlier, I don’t usually read books in this genre. However, after reading Big Little Lies and finding Moriarty’s character development and storytelling style extremely compelling, I will definitely be reading her again in the future. Now, I can’t wait to see how the show compares to the book!
You can purchase a copy of the book here, with free shipping worldwide!