Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, Raising Wolves and more Stephen King
Posted on April 4, 2015
Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (aka Big Little Lies in Australia and the United States)
This was a slow burner for me, although that could possibly have been because it was one of a pile of books I got out of the library for Easter weekend and so was in dithery book heaven. Beaven. Ditheaven. Anyway, I alternated reading it with the start of Stephen King’s 11:22:63 and it took a while before I got properly into the story.
But. I raced through the latter two-thirds of it and now will be checking out Liane Moriarty’s other novels. This ticked many of my book boxes: mentions of a huge event that’s not fully explained until near the end so keeps you reading on; set in ‘the real world’ (and in Australia, a country in which my heart remains); covering ishoos; sarcastically humorous, and taking the piss out of the ‘school mum clique’ present to be lampooned oh so often on Mumsnet.
Little Lies follows three women who all have children just starting kindergarten at a primary school on a New South Wales peninsula. Jane is a nervous type with a secret and a five year old son, Ziggy. Celeste seems to have everything – rich rich husband, twin boys, good looks – but is also nervous and twitchy. Madeline is described on the book’s jacket as ‘feisty’ (aargh) and is the first mother at the school to befriend Jane. She and Celeste become Jane’s friends when Ziggy is accused of bullying and hitting a five year old girl in his class.
So far, so seemingly chicklit. But, just as the books by the fecking fantastic Marian Keyes are also not chicklit, neither is Little Lies. Each chapter ends with a paragraph of dialogue from one or more of the parents ‘in the future’, talking about a murder that apparently happened at the school’s trivia night. Who was murdered, and why?
It’s exploring this question that leads the book into its darker themes: domestic violence, possible rape and overall the issue of male violence against women which cuts across all classes.
One of the subplots (slight spoiler, but not essential to the main plot) is about Madeline’s fourteen year old daughter Abigail, who develops a social conscience under the influence of her wafting, long skirt-wearing, bead rattling drifty stepmother Bonnie and who becomes incensed with the issue of human/sexual trafficking. Abigail’s (rather ingenious, it has to be said, if utterly misguided darling) solution is to auction her virginity online to raise money for Amnesty International. Teenagers etc.
The whole episode is done quite funnily, but towards the end of the book, when everyone realises Celeste is being regularly beaten by her hedge fund manager husband, the narrative rightly links all forms of violence against women and girls – what has happened to Celeste (and Jane in a hotel room) and what her daughter is fighting against – as all part of the same distressing scale:
It occurred to her that there were so many levels of evil in the world. Small evils like her own malicious words. Like not inviting a child to a party. Bigger evils like walking out on your wife with a newborn baby and sleeping with your child’s nanny. And then there was the sort of evil of which Madeline had no experience: cruelty in hotel rooms and violence in suburban homes and little girls being sold like merchandise, shattering innocent hearts.
That is writing. As is the claustrophobia of small towns, like when Madeline has to ring someone professionally but must endure Small Talk about the Kids in the conversation first (this whole section made me itch).
Many people love small communities and fair play to them and all who sail in them, but overall living in a tiny community where everyone knows you and what you’re doing (as I did on Koh Samui) makes me feel like someone is slowly peeling my skin back and peering with gossipy interest underneath. (And yes, I know I’m not that interesting and people have better things to do. It’s the overall feeling, like floating in a slightly insane way around a goldfish bowl. Gah.)
Along with Roddy Doyle’s The Woman Who Walked Into Doors and Stephen King's Dolores Claiborne, Little Lies is among the best fiction I’ve read on domestic violence and why women stay with abusers. Moriarty is so convincing at showing why Celeste stays with her husband that his good qualities crept inside my head too. Of course many abusers have good qualities that keep their partners with them; women aren’t stupid.
Little Lies is categorised in my library as a thriller, which I’m not sure I’d shelve it under, but no matter. A novel by a woman writer about children and schools is normally lumped into chicklit and I’m rather stoked (Aussie term) that this isn’t.
(On a slightly related and ragey note, I also saw David Nicholl’s new book on the shelves, complete with blurb that it was longlisted for the Booker. I haven’t read it and it may well be brilliant and I mean no disrespect to David Nicholls – but I feel in my bones that if One Day had been written by a woman, its cover would have been pink and covered in glitter. Chicklit v dicklit is a blog on my list.)
This isn’t a ‘classic’ novel: it lacks, for example, the utterly scathing or depressing characterisation/hole into the soul that is Stephen King at his best on the smallness of lives, or the utterly bleak desperateness of The Grapes of Wrath or I am Charlotte Simmons. But this isn’t a fault of the book. King, Steinbeck and Wolfe are above par for all but a tiny proportion of writers ever (cries), and Liane Moriarty hasn’t pretended to be any of them. What she has done is write a ruddy enjoyable, funny, touching book that’s a ruddy good read. Recommended.
Also read since the last blog:
- Weightless by Sarah Bannon: a novel about high school cliques in an Alabama school that’s so chilling I thought at first it was dystopian.
- Mr Mercedes by Stephen King: surprised me by giving tears in the eyes about the protagonist’s baffled joy in finding love and in his crying himself to sleep for the first time since childhood. (Not what the book’s about, obv, but I’m a soppy sort.) Am chuffed to find from looking it up on Goodreads that it’s the first of a trilogy; I fell in love with Bill Hodges a bit.
- The Library Book: essays by writers on the essentialness of libraries, in a time of cuts. Stephen Fry’s piece on discovering Oscar Wilde as a young gay man in rural Norfolk, and realising there were ‘others like him’, all good people with fine minds, also made me sniffle a bit. I may be hormonal.
Watching: Raised by Wolves, Channel 4, by Caitlin and Caroline Moran. Greatly chucklesome sitcom about six children being brought up in a gloriously unconventional way by a gloriously unconventional mum in Wolverhampton. And the Daily Mail hates it, which is always a plus.
This week had eldest daughter Germaine lamenting when her chavvy love interest Lee flirts with the family cousin (thin, freckled and bearing tiny shorts). Why doesn’t he look at meeeee? Germaine laments, I have a fearsome intellect! To which sister Aretha tersely (and sadly truthfully) points out that a fearsome intellect does not necessarily look good in shorts.
Random: Someone asked about the pics on my blogs, as clearly they're not usually related to the blog subject. Tis simple: they're pics from whatever meanderings I've been up to since last posting.
The first pic on this blog, par exemple, is a jackdaw nesting in a tree at Richmond Bridge and one I'm disproportionately proud of (pic, not jackdaw) as for once I hung around with a camera like an idjut waiting for the right shot instead of feeling scundered and scuttling off.
The second is a newly horrific image of Moon-Face in the latest version of Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree - I'm sorry, I know it's by the wonderful Quentin Blake, but Moon-Face looks like a demented and more than slightly dangerous fang-toothed turnip, amd reminds me more than he should of Pennywise the clown in Stephen King's IT. The third represents mischief in the library (the Tony Blair crime section gag never gets old), and the fourth is my bear Dug at my fortieth birthday party in Lavery's, Belfast. Yes, fortieth, and yes, a stuffed bear.
And there is a tottering new pile of books on the boat. All hail libraries, all. And books. I intend to read so much this year my eyes will cross. Back soon.