I first heard of Liane Moriarty when her previous novel, The Husband’s Secret, was published. I asked for a review copy but I was offered a digital galley instead, and since I am in a love-hate relationship with my Sony e-reader, I politely declined. But, when I read the news that Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman were on negotiations to adapt Moriarty’s latest novel, Little Lies (Big Little Lies in the USA), I knew I had to read the book before I watched the film. This time I was luckier and was sent a beautiful hardback review copy from Penguin Press. And not only that, but they are sending me a copy of The Husband’s Secret re-printing as well. Thank you!
She could hear men and women shouting. Angry hollers crashed through the soft humid salty summer night. It was somehow hurtful for Mrs Ponder to hear, as if all that rage was directed at her . . . then she heard the wail of a siren in the distance, at the same time as a woman still inside the building began to scream and scream . . .
When a harmless quiz night ends with an act of shocking violence, the parents of Pirriwee Public School can’t seem to stop their secrets from finally spilling out. Rumours ripple through the small town, as truth and lies blur to muddy the story of what really happened on that fateful night .
When reading about Little Lies online, I am afraid some readers will call it “chick-lit”. Because it deals with mothers, schools, children and domestic issues. This is a book written by a woman, about issues that society classifies as women’s issues and that deal with the private and domestic spheres of any family: laundry, food, clothes, image, schedules. So, Little Lies definitely belongs to the recent and very popular subgenre of ‘domestic crime’ or ‘domestic suspense’. I am very pleased that these stories have now room in our shelves and in readers’ minds. Sarah Weinman recently compiled short stories from the 1950’s written by women and belonging to the so-called domestic crime or domestic-suspense in Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, so the ideas are nothing Gillian Flynn invented for Gone Girl. However, I am afraid there will still be those who will quickly discard Little Lies as a ‘chick-lit’ for its setting and its characters. I can only say, their loss.
What first called my attention about the story is that I had no idea where it was set. While I read, I realized it was too sunny to be England, yet they used “mum” instead of “mom”, which completely discarded the USA as a setting. Why did not Australia come to mind? I really do not know, but I am very happy and very excited to have discovered crime fiction set in Australia. It felt really weird to read about Christmas in the summertime and how they organize their lives completely different to what I am accustomed to.
Having dealt with the setting, I discovered another joy: Moriarty’s masterful story-telling. The reader knows from the beginning that someone has died because we are told so by many secondary characters who all have a distinct voice and very different opinions on the matter. There are three main characters: Madeleine, Celeste and Jane and the story centers on their lives in relation to the pre-school their children attend. This setting and the worries that come from it give the appearance of little troubles: one kid hitting another one, jealousy, fighting for toys, etc. But the reality behind it is much more complex and Moriarty did a great job at portraying the adult world behind pre-school. I could feel exhausted and troubled when one of the main characters was because they were late for the school run, or because they were about to hand some homework late. This is how good Liane Moriarty is.
As you can imagine, Little Lies is a win-win at women’s representation. Pirriwee school is actually a fancy, upper-middle-class school, so Liane Moriarty focused specifically on the problems women belonging to this social class have. One of them is a personal image: they constantly talk about diets, exercise and fashion and how all the mothers do their best to look as if they were just out of a runaway show when they are actually exhausted and have a million other worries troubling them. Women who are mothers cannot content themselves with being mothers, housewives (even if they work outside the house) and themselves, but they also have to be fashionable mothers. In this environment, it was also easy to portray the famous “Mommy Wars” between stay-at-home mothers and the so-called “working mothers”. Moriarty then shows that everything is constructed and that society has a list of what a mother has to be and what not and how this pressure affects some women and is just another worry to their already busy lives. The book really deconstructs the issue of properness: what is proper of a good mother, of a good wife, or upper-middle class, of good friends, of fashionable women etc. However, I had one little problem with the book and that was its whiteness, but, again, taking into account the setting, one can only deduce that social class and race go tightly hand in hand and Liane Moriarty covertly denounces that.
So, I would recommend Little Lies by Liane Moriarty to everybody. I was about to lose interest in reading for a few days when I decided to give the book I try and it did wonders. Do not let the cover (which I think is beautiful!) or the back description hold you back. Little Lies is a great crime fiction novel. Actually, it is my first and only 5* review this summer. Not convinced yet? Check out these two other fantastic reviews: