Book Review - Big Little Lies

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was recommended this book and given I had a stressful two weeks ahead, I thought to listen to it as a distraction. I had already watched the television series, so wasn't sure how I would feel about reading it, but turns out the two entities are good and great in their own ways.

I haven't read many books that deal with women's issues and violence against women as head on as Moriarty does. It's a revelation - she is never too graphic, nor does she write her women as cowed and weak. For every cruel act committed against a character, there are two others that will gee up the character and make her day. Despite the superficiality of the characters - squabbling over kindergarten? - they are engaging and riveting. I don't think enough women's literature gets the recognition it deserves, most people are too happy to shove women-centric stories into a corner, but not all are cut from the same cloth.

Moriarty includes a smattering of humour in the otherwise streamlined story. Admittedly the Greek chorus that she included in the book would have been very confusing for me had I not watched the series. Having said that, it's so ingenious that one can't help but love it.

I would have preferred more diversity in the characters, including different races, nationalities, body types and abilities. Also, the sole working woman in the main cast is sidelined as a harridan for most of the book, which is exhausting to read, because career women have a tough time as it is without books adding to it. Also, all the characters are straight, which is strange to read in the 21st century.

Regarding the domestic violence aspect - it is hard-hitting and important, but probably preaching to the choir. Books like these are expected to include such topics, but the day these nuanced and tragic realities are included in mainstream books that supposedly everyone reads, will be a day of triumph. The author tries deftly to suggest that it takes two to tango, but I think she overdid it. Some may believe that Celeste is indeed the culprit, rather than her being a victim irrespective of how often she fights back or 'triggers' her husband. That is a fact that needed to be stated far more often than the author did.

Here's the trouble with adaptations - where Moriarty is deliberately brief about what Celeste has gone through, the show is explicit and the scenes prolonged. I would have much preferred to watch the characters tip toe around a potential incident than be bombarded with actual scenes of violence.

Also, the author specifically mentions that Jane's endometriosis and prognoses stating her gynaecological issues means she doesn't worry about an accidental pregnancy from her encounter or consider an abortion till it is too late. In the show they leave all of that out, making it seem like abortion is not even an option or worth consideration. There's also the issue of Jane's weight and her eating disorder - I can't say it was well handled in the book, but the show could have given us size positive character, but of course, they didn't. And this is why Hollywood is such a disaster!

The show also doesn't do justice to many of the male characters - Ed and Nathan are much nicer and supportive characters in the book, whereas in the show, Ed is a borderline lech whose dissatisfaction in his marriage leads him to lash out at his wife more often than support her. I wondered why Madeline stuck around with Ed in the show, but in the book, he is the pillar that her quixotic personality needs to lean on.

One thing the show did better is showcase the surprising camaraderie between the women after the final showdown. By making it all about the ladies, we are left with a striking and powerful image of five women from all walks of life forming a bond through tragedy. What the show didn't capitalise on was Bonnie's story - told in a rush at the end of the book, but easily surmised through her actions on Trivia Night, I think this side of Bonnie's background could well be the fodder for season 2.

It is hard to say I loved this book or enjoyed reading it - it is hardly the kind of subject matter to warrant enjoyment. I would say that it is mostly exquisitely written, delving into topics and aspects of womanhood that most writers love to sensationalise/trivialise, but here Moriarty adds in nuances and an understanding that goes well beyond the abilities of just a chick lit author.

Worth a read for any and everybody.

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