truly madly guilty

I love Liane Moriarty’s books.

I think my favourite is ‘Big Little Lies’, but I also loved ‘What Alice Forgot’ and enjoyed ‘The Husband’s Secret’ despite a truly divisive ending.

The moment I spotted this in the bookshop I knew I would be setting all other books aside to devour this, and so I did. It was just as brilliant as I was anticipating, though for reasons I’ll discuss later, it seems some readers are not be as pleased with this story as they were with Moriarty’s earlier books.

What’s it about?

One day, one ordinary BBQ, yet by its end a marriage is fractured and three families are left devastated. What on earth happened? How? And how will each family handle the fall-out?

It’s an exploration of the impact of one event on the lives of three middle-class couples, each dealing with their own issues already, and an opportunity for Moriarty to do what she does so well: create utterly believable characters who wrestle with their feelings and occasionally – or often! – find their friends and family deeply frustrating.

Oh and it’s about guilt. Not in a “hit you over the head with a theme” way, but, understandably, as a result of the BBQ, there’re a lot of guilty feelings driving the characters’ behaviours, and Moriarty explores the damage these unexpressed and unresolved feelings can do.

What’s it like?

Compelling. Insightful. Convincing.

Moriarty opens the story on one of the characters giving a talk about the events of this ultimately shocking “ordinary day”, then switches the focus of the narration to the day of the BBQ itself in the second chapter. As the plot lines develop, she switches back and forth between the day of the BBQ and a period of time about two months afterwards.

Personally, I was absolutely gripped to the extent of almost shouting at my book “but what HAPPENED?!?”

Some readers have complained that the book’s structure is simply annoying rather than intriguing as, unlike in her previous books, all the characters know (most of) what happened that day, so Moriarty continually creates scenes where the characters talk around what happened and leaves chapters on mini cliff-hangers purely to tantalise readers. I found it compelling, though I can see why some readers were expecting a more salacious reveal!

What do we want to know?

By the time the big event is revealed to the reader, Moriarty has introduced us to the intimate inner lives of her characters and we have new concerns: can Clementine conquer her audition nerves and rescue her marriage? How will Erika and Clementine’s friendship evolve? Will Tiffany send Dakota to the fancy school despite the possible repercussions of her previous relationship with another parent? Although actually…

What don’t we want to know?

…actually, Tiffany’s the weak link with the slightly less believable / well developed story arc. (Does Moriarty really expect us to believe that Vid, sociable, fun-loving Vid, would have killed someone? Really? Because I don’t. One throwaway chapter suggesting he night have been overcome by homicidal rage in a future set of completely hypothetical circumstances was unconvincing to say the least.) As I suggested with the character of Frannie in ‘What Alice Forgot’, Tiffany’s storyline doesn’t add a lot to the plot and could have been cut without any loss to the overall effect (though I appreciate it’s highly relevant to the theme of guilt).

Final thoughts

This is an insightful look at relationships, the way fractures can become chasms, and the insidious impact of guilt, all wrapped up in a compelling story with a few decent twists.

Moriarty’s strength is her completely convincing portrayal of people (with all their flaws and oddities and very human natures) and their relationships with other people (which are always complex and affected by history, perception and the key events in the book).

As always, I am very much looking forward to reading Moriarty’s next book.

‘Truly Madly Guilty’,
Liane Moriarty,
2017, Penguin, paperback