Wednesday, September 24, 2014

book review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

The backstory: Big Little Lies is one of my book club's September selections (the other is Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead.) I've previously read two of Liane Moriarty's earlier novels, What Alice Forgot, which I quite enjoyed but apparently never reviewed here, and The Husband's Secret, which I liked, but not as much.

The basics: Set in a picturesque Sydney, Australia beach community, Big Little Lies is the story of three women, all of whom are mothers of kindergartners. Madeline, a divorced and re-married mother of two. She has definite opinions about everyone. Her best friend, Celeste, who is impossibly beautiful and a mom to five-year-old twin boys. Lastly, Jane, a new-to-town single mom who is shockingly young. The book opens on the night of a costume fundraiser at the school, when there is a mysterious death. The action soon jumps back six months to the day of kindergarten orientation, when Jane meets Celeste and Madeline.

This review contains some spoilers because I can't seem to review books I don't like without spoiling some plot points as a means of explanation.

My thoughts: What hindered my enjoyment of The Husband's Secret was how obvious the titular secret was. Given the seemingly diverse cast of narrators, I found the secret, as well as the connection between the narrators, pretty obvious. Big Little Lies was even more transparent, and it seemed so much more vapid because the characters weren't nearly as realistically formed.

This novel tries to be a mystery, but only to a point. The reader doesn't learn the identity of the dead person for quite some time, and this odd withholding of information illustrates how thin the plot itself was (and how much Moriarty tries to be clever.) Secrets, large and small, are slowly revealed, but Moriarty employs a ridiculous amount of foreshadowing along the way. This novel is far too long at 480 pages, and while there might be the crux of a good idea there, its execution was flawed.

From the moment Jane arrives in town, it's clear the secret father of her child lives there. Again, due to the overuse of foreshadowing, I found it rather obvious from quite early on, and the foreshadowing in this case was the most heavy-handed. Moriarty's treatment of serious issues as a seemingly clever plot device struck me as cheap and insensitive. Similarly, it's soon pretty obvious which person is most disliked and most likely to end up dead. Because I correctly guessed these two pivotal reveals so early on, it felt like I slogged through most of the novel with little benefit (I did guess the killer nearly as early, so Moriarty had me there, but I found the reveal totally unsatisfying to the narrative.

Lastly, each chapter ends with a few lines of dialogue from a large cast of characters, some of whom we do not meet for quite some time. Initially I found this device distracting and confusing, as so many characters were thrown at me. Soon it seemed to be an attempt at humor, but it often fell flat for me. Ultimately, I wish Moriarty had written full chapters from more points of view. It would have complicated the narrative in a good way, instead of a simplistic way.

The verdict: An interesting idea was not well executed here. The characters were caricatures. The structure attempted to build intrigue into a really thin plot. Most importantly, neither the big nor little lies were ultimately very interesting, and with weak plot and characters, there wasn't anything else left to enjoy in this novel's far too many pages.

Rating: 2 out of 5
Length: 480 pages
Publication date: July 29, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Big Little Lies from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Liane Moriarty's website and like her on Facebook.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. First negative review I have seen. I am not lured by the story's premise at all. I've heard from many that it's a page turner but it just doesn't appeal to me. I hate when a book falls apart in its execution.

  2. I'm glad to read this review because now I feel not pressured to read it. I felt like with it being a movie I should check it out first but nm lol!


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