I don’t know why I resisted reading this book even though I continued to hear good, no, great things about it. Interestingly, much of what I did hear was understated. Rather than claims of ‘it’s fabulous/wonderful/moving/erudite/beautifully written’ (and believe me, this novel is all those things and more), the phrase I heard the most was ‘just read it.’ I also noted that people whose judgment I value rated it their best book of last year.
Finally, early into 2015, I picked up Big Little Lies and the silly notion I’d developed that it was somehow a comic novel rapidly disappeared as I was drawn into the world Moriarty has created and the lives of its fully realized and complicated characters. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some genuinely laugh out loud moments as there would be in a novel centered around three women whose common ground is the school their children attend and the small beachside neighborhood they live in. Anyone with children in primary school forced to interact with other parents knows playground and parental/family politics can be a source of great amusement but also, as a Big Little Lies intricately and accurately maps, painful angst.
Told from multiple points of view, the novel follows part of a school year and three mums whose children are newly enrolled in kindergarten. There is pragmatic ‘I call a spade a spade’ Madeline with her love of bling, glitter and her fierce sense of loyalty and social justice. Then there is her close friend, the extremely beautiful, slightly ethereal and distracted Celeste, mother to rambunctious twin boys with a perfect husband, house and wealth to spare. Finally, there is single-mother, Jane and her beloved young son, new to the area and carrying a great secret.
The narrative unfolds retrospectively, the pivotal moment (*minor spoiler* – it is revealed in the blurb but don’t read on if you don’t want to know) in which time starts to wind back is a murder. Taking us back to the point at which the three women meet, we follow the first tentative steps of friendship as Madeline and Celeste, who are already good friends, take Jane under their wing. This fledgling threesome’s friendship’s bonds are immediately tested and tightened when Jane’s son is accused of something terrible at school (no, not the murder).
Thus the stage is set and what unfolds as the school year progresses and we start to race towards what we already know is going to happen is both the normality and impossibility of the daily life and grind of ordinary people. Moriarty plunges the reader into these women’s lives and the secrets, lies – big and small – and truths of their existence, and that of their children, partners and families, as well as those of the many other characters that pepper and influence their lives. Other voices are given a brief platform from which to speak, serving to draw the reader into the mystery underpinning the entire story: who was killed? Where and why and by whom?
Masterful, evocative and haunting, the novel captures so many of the complexities of relationships: the joy, despair, frustration and fury that can co-exist under one roof between partners, parents and children, as well as those we call friends or acquaintances. It reveals what lies beneath the surface, exposes the facades we powerfully erect and work hard to maintain and why we do this as well. It explores the ways in which and reasons behind certain behaviours, even when we know they’re wrong or wonder what we’re protecting by acting that way – usually, ourselves.
This is a wonderful, chewy novel (by chewy, I mean you find yourself considering so much of what happens and what is said, turning it over and over in your head, thinking scenarios through, in many ways, testing their veracity and asking yourself, would I (or anyone I know) have said/done that) that lingers for ages in the head and heart. It is so believable, the characters so three dimensional and real you want to either slap them, interrupt an argument and add your two bits worth or invite them to a party and get drunk with them.
Absolutely marvelous prose by a brilliant writer whose work I cannot wait to sink my teeth into again and mull over some more. Might be an early call, but could be my best read for 2015…