"Truly Madly Guilty" Liane Moriarty
I am quite a fan of Liane Moriarty, usually saving her books for a holiday or a weekend treat, so I was delighted to find out she had a new book on the loose.
As with all of Moriarty's books, this story focuses on a small cast of characters in a middle class suburb who have all been affected by one life changing event - an event they experience collectively but to which they each respond very differently. We meet Clementine, her husband Sam, their two small daughters; Clementine's childhood friend Erika, married to Oliver, neighbours Vid, Tiffany and their 10 year old daughter Dakota. Vid invites the two couples and children over for a barbecue one weekend. A very "ordinary" day, a very "ordinary" barbecue, very "ordinary" people. "A barbecue with Erika and her charming neighbours on a sunny winter's day would be fun. What could be nicer?" thinks Clementine. Indeed, just what could go wrong? But "sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm."
I settled into this novel very comfortably and very quickly. Moriarty's writing is easy to read and amusing. She uses key observational detail which makes characters relatable and recognisable, encouraging the reader to feel very at home with them as they are so familiar and probably remind us of people we know or even ourselves. The location, dynamics between the group and the themes (marriage, friendship and parenting) universal to most of her target readers. It is very easy to picture, Moriarty's writing is quite filmic and it feels like you are settling in to watch a box set of your favourite soap opera / dramatic mini series.
The cleverness of "Truly, Madly, Guilty" is in the chronology of the narrative. The chapters contain a mix of narratives either so many days or hours "before the day of the barbecue", "the day of the barbecue" or pick up eight weeks after the barbecue. We see how each character has reacted to the barbecue -how relationships not only between the group and their community have changed, but also how relationships between the parents and children, the couples themselves and between the couples and their own parents, has been affected. The different sections and perspectives are not delivered in any particular order so the reader is constantly jumping backwards and forwards, collecting pieces of the jigsaw and storing them until they can finally complete the full picture. At times it was a little confusing but Moriarty shows great skill in managing the various different threads, weaving them together skilfully in to the dramatic denouement for which is her books are becoming famous. I loved the way so much was revealed without revealing anything. The reader has absolutely no idea what actually happened at the barbecue until the last third of the novel. In fact in some ways, it is not even the event that really matters but the way the characters respond and what this in turn forces them to admit, confront, accept and share.
Although don't be fooled - the dramatic climax packs a very powerful punch. You will be unable to tear your eyes away from the page and will be devouring the words as everything is finally revealed!
Moriarty's characterisation is great. I loved her similes - "her muscles tensed as if doing a pilates crunch". I like the a casual comment like one character's claim while putting out the recycling "That's my workout done for the day," followed swiftly with the aside, "It was't, she was going to the gym later." Moriarty can see through the polished, perfected image that is carefully presented to the world and enjoys revealing it for what it really is to the readers. The characters are flawed, sometimes damaged, never what they originally seem and always with a hidden secret. Their dysfunctional selves implied through wry observations like when Erika sits down to listen to Oliver, "indicating by her body she was ready to listen. She made eye contact... touched his forearm....she would use hand sanitiser once they had finished talking."
I loved the way we are kept in the dark for so long, puzzling away at what might have happened and who might be responsible. It means we do not judge just one character but all of them, in turn, whether they are 2 years old, 10 years old or 40 years old. In that sense this book is reminiscent of "An Inspector Calls". It also reminded me of "The Slap" a lot - although the characters are actually far more likeable and redeemable than in that novel and it is a much more comfortable and entertaining read.
Ultimately this is a great chick lit read - gripping, full of twists and secrets and a fascinating snapshot of the effects of one specific moment in time on a supposedly tight knit group of friends and their supposedly strong marriages. As the blurb says:
In "Truly Madly Guilty", Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.
The appeal of Moriarty's novels is the way she focuses on a microcosm of society, then keenly strips away the shiny veneer to reveal secrets, lies, betrayal and always an unexpected and powerful twist! For me, the best bit is the way she explores the "darker" side of these allegedly perfect family units. I recommend this book- I enjoyed it as a dramatic and gripping read but also it was a bit of a break from the darkness of the psychological thrillers I have recently finished.
I have read most of Moriarty's books and each one gets better and better. Her previous title "Big Little Lies" is possibly still my favourite - apparently the film rights have been bought by Nicole Kidman and Reece Witherspoon so look out for a big screen production in the near future! I would recommend you check it out. "My Husband's Secret" and "What Alice Forgot" are also very worthwhile getting hold of - I guarantee you'll enjoy them and race through them. Several friends have enjoyed her books and I know some of them have been used within Book Groups. "Truly Madly Guilty" would lend itself beautifully to a Book Group read!
My thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy of this novel in return for a fair review. It was a privilege and a real treat to be approved for this title.
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