Australian author Liane Moriarty’s seventh novel, Truly Madly Guilty, follows a set of friends in Sydney’s quiet and wholesome suburbia, in very much the same vein as her previous books. Her characters are, however, anything but innocent or sedentary. They are all deliciously flawed, selfish but lovable.
In this latest tale we meet the perfect couple Erika and Oliver, who have a sanitised, uncluttered house – and life. They are described as ‘Childless by choice’ by Erika’s best friend, the cellist Clementine. Her life in contrast is chaotic; even her house, which she shares with her husband Sam and two daughters Holly and Ruby, seems to have an ability to swallow things up. Anything from children’s clothes to ice-cream scoops go missing. Erika’s neighbours, the beautiful Tiffany and her loud, rich husband Vid prefer Clementine and Sam to their dull neighbours, and invite the two couples for an impromptu barbecue during an unusually rainy period, dubbed ‘The Big Wet’.
At the barbecue something terrible happens, an event that changes the lives of all who attend. Cracks in relationships are revealed; everyone who was there feels guilty for what happened, including the children. Even the grandparents who weren’t even present are affected by the events of that fateful afternoon.
The narrative in Truly Madly Guilty slips between the day of the barbecue, and the weeks following the party. Moriarty teases us with the central catastrophe, and it’s not until about two-thirds down the novel that we find out what really happened.
This is too late.
I’ve loved all the novels I’ve read by Liane Moriarty, and I eventually loved this one too, but I felt she took too long to get to the central event of the story. The issues she tackles in this book are serious; there’s sexism, motherhood, hoarding and the complicated subject of female friendships. Her writing is beautiful, her characters incredibly well drawn. There is no need for tricks of the trade to keep us reading. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the story if she’d told me even as early on as, say, a third way down the book what happened. I would have wanted to find out the, ‘Who, what, when, where, why, how?’ anyway.
It’s amazing that such a successful author doesn’t trust her own ability to make a book interesting without using an infuriating plot device. Her best seller has sold over two million copies world-wide, and she has sold the film rights to two of her earlier novels (Big Little Lies to Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, no less!). Still, I have to give Truly Madly Guilty 4 stars – purely for the excellent prose, brilliant plot (when it was eventually revealed) and believable, perfectly drawn characters.