Liane Moriarty’s latest novel Truly Madly Guilty came out last summer and I was kindly sent an early review copy by the publishers. But being a fan of Moriarty – you can check my reviews of her previous novels here – I knew I was in for a treat and I wanted to make sure I had free time to sit and devour the book. When I finally took a month off this summer (better later than never, eh?) I knew that one of the books I would enjoy the most in the pile of selected readings would be Moriarty’s. Turns out, I did not know what I had waiting for me…
Like of Moriarty’s novels, Truly Madly Guilty is set in Australia. This setting has become now her trademark, and I think it is fantastic that she is enriching the domestic noir tradition by providing global readers – for her books always become best-sellers – with a different environment other than the UK and the US. Also like her previous novels, the book follows the life of middle-class, White Australian couples whose apparent domestic bliss hides dark secrets, long-lasting feuds, and more criminality than we would expect from the suburbs. This time around, the story features three couples who get together for a Sunday evening barbecue when something terrible happens and disturbs the lives of the four people and three children involved.
The event though is undisclosed throughout the first half of the novel, so in leaiu of no spoilers, I will not share it with you. If you have read Moriarty’s works, it is easy to see where the story is going, but with this novel she has mastered her trademark structural narrative as she keeps the reader guessing what went wrong, therefore forcing us to go through all the fatal possibilities. This narrative tool creates a lot of tension and turns the book into an addictive page-turner. I do not think anyone can pick Truly Madly Guilty whose interest would not be picked by what happened.
But the most interesting part of the book was the characters on themselves. If Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman put Madeleine and Celeste at Amy Dunne’s level with their acting in the HBO’s adaptation of Big Little Lies, the characters in Truly Madly Guilty have done that by themselves. Erika and Clementine have been friends since childhood – with the added jealousy, unconditional love, and struggles that come with these friendships – when Clementine’s mother made her play with the new kid at school with the flea bites and the hoarder mother. Now in their thirties, they are both married, and while Erika has a stable job as an accountant that goes with her strict Type-A personality, Clementine is a professional cellist obsessively rehearsing for her dream job while attending to her husband and their two young children. Despite their past, or probably because of it, the two couples decide to attend a barbecue at Erika’s neighbours’ house. Vid and Tiffany are by far the most interesting couple of the book. Perfect but quirky hostesses, flooded with money, he is described as a Tony Soprano type, while her curvaceous figure will remind readers of TV sensation Sofia Vergara. He is older than her, he is a plumber with more than 20 employees, and together they are parents to Dakota, a bookworm that will remind readers of their early years. But do not let your prejudices fool you, as there is more to Tiffany that meets the eye.
After the tragic event that sets the plot in motion, Moriarty explores the aftermath through the six adults and the three children with extraordinary ability to build multidimensional characters. The lesson being: There are as many sides to a story as people participating in them, and it is necessary for each and every one of us to keep our minds open and be kind to each other. Not two people experience the same event in the same way, and Moriarty has now become a master of this kind of story, where there is more the characters than apparently meets the eye. She achieves this impressive layering by putting her characters in social situations, but writing their internal dialogues, struggles and feelings so that we can see the difference between acts and thoughts.
Truly Madly Guilty was without a doubt my favourite reading this past summer, and it is bound to be one of my favourite books of 2017. It is the perfect page-turner to curl up and read with hours to end. Meanwhile, I will be here waiting for Moriarty’s next book.
Liane Moriarty is an Australian writer of Domestic Noir whose second novel Big Little Lies turned her into a global sensation. Her novels depict the complexity of middle-class suburban life in her native country, and have recently been adapted into TV shows starring Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon (who also worked as producer), and Blake Lively.