Big Little Lies tells the story of three kindergarten moms as we, the reader, try to unravel exactly what happened and to whom at the school trivia night fundraiser. We know from the outset that someone dies. We know that it is highly suspicious. And that’s all. We don’t know who died. We don’t know who did it. We don’t know much beyond the fact that everyone – through the highly effective device of witness statements and police comments – thinks they know everything only for us to realize that no one knows anything.
In actuality, Big Little Lies is a story of three kindergarten moms: Madeline, Celeste and Jane. It’s a story about moms. About women. About female friendships. About marriage. About the politics of school. Because it’s a contemporary novel about women and women’s issues, I’m sure it could fall into the chick lit category. Let me first say, I hate this term. I don’t hate books labeled chick lit – there are some damn fine books and authors that get slapped with this marketing label – I hate the term. The insinuation that a book about women is only for women. That a book that tackles contemporary topics and female relationships somehow needs relegating to its own genre. Contemporary fiction seems classification enough. But I don’t think I’ll be shaking up any marketing departments at the publishing houses with this admonition, so consider that just my own personal gift of thought. In actuality, I can already tell you my own work-in-progress would probably qualify as chick lit (spoiler, it’s about modern women, some of them are mothers, some of them have relationships, ACK!) and if it ever makes it to publication, I’ll be more than happy to have it marketed in any way that sells it. </end rant>
What Ms. Moriarty does so well in this book is make a story about day-to-day events seem compelling and intriguing and rooted in mystery simply by sharing with us up front the periphery of a tragic event in the open and then unraveling the truth of the story from the beginning, six months prior. Similar to The Husband’s Secret, Moriarty deftly switches perspectives between several key female characters. The reader gets a little peak into each of their lives, allowing us to add up as many pieces as we can, but creating a pace that only slowly reveals the actual truth. In addition to the changed perspective, Moriarty employs the use of these witness statements at the end of most chapters using the supporting cast’s perceptions to create doubt, suspicion, misdirection and often a bit of comic relief.
This book was a page turner for me. Just as I’d finish up a chapter and think, I’ll turn off the light after this one, a witness’s absurd observation would propel me straight into the next chapter. I did have one element of the book figured out, but Moriarty does a fine job of keeping us guessing throughout about who died, who did it and why. The end result is never what we expect, but I found the denouement satisfying without being cliche or trite.
If you’re a mom with elementary aged kids, I’d definitely recommend it. I think you’ll recognize a lot of the PTA politics and relate to any number of the moms in the story. If you’re a person who likes a subtle mystery sprinkled with a healthy dose of levity, this is also a book for you.
I’d give this a solid 4 out of 5.
What about you? Did you read Big Little Lies? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments. Next up: A review of Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. Another mystery, but oh so different from this one.