Other bloggers have been telling me to read Liane Moriarty for years. I bought a couple of her novels second hand in 2013 and, as is the way with most of my books, I haven’t actually read them yet. I couldn’t help but see the hype around her later releases Truly Madly Guilty and, of course, Big Little Lies. And yet, I still avoided the hype. Finally, I’ve given in and listened to the audiobook as well as watching the Emmy-award winning HBO mini-series.
Despite seeing this book everywhere, I still had no idea what this book was about when I started listening. I had just finished listening to another Moriarty book, The Husband’s Secret, and couldn’t help but move straight onto Big Little Lies. Narration was by Caroline Lee, who also read the Kate Morton audiobooks. The narrative starts at the point where someone is dead after a school trivia night, readers don’t know who died or whether it was intentional. From there, the story works forward to the trivia night from five months previously, exploring the intertwining lives of three mums; Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Jane (Shailene Woodley). Throughout this, we get snippets of the post-trivia night police interviews which help build the tension.
Set in an exclusive beachside suburb, Big Little Lies was easy to be drawn into. I found the characters’ individual narratives intriguing and was also itching to find out what had happened at the trivia night. Jane’s son Ziggy is being accused of major bullying, while Madeline is trying to deal with her teenage daughter and ex-husband (whose child with his new wife is in her youngest daughter’s class). Celeste is in an abusive relationship, which from the outside seems to be perfect. Since I listened to the audiobook, I don’t feel like I can do a full review so I thought instead I’d review and compare both the novel and the mini-series. There will be minor spoilers ahead, so beware.
The first major difference is that the mini-series is set in a wealthy Californian town, rather than an Australian suburb. Although it felt like it had a different, darker vibe, there were quite a few instances in the novel which felt ‘Americanised’ so the switch didn’t feel too strange. This is one of the first adaptations I’ve seen where the images of the characters in my head are drastically different from those on screen. Perhaps it was because, unlike other adaptations, I read the book before I’d seen any trailers or posters for the mini-series. Nevertheless, I thought Witherspoon and Kidman were perfect for their roles. I must admit, it took me a while for Woodley to grow on me as Jane, partly because her character was so drastically different from her novel counterpart. I also really enjoyed the added perspective of Renata (Laura Dern).
One of the things that bothered me most about the adaptation was the addition of Jane’s gun. In the novel, it is revealed Jane was raped and fell pregnant with Ziggy. This becomes a much bigger focus of the adaptation, to the point where Jane fantasises about killing her attacker. Which I didn’t mind, because it added more depth to her character and made the mini-series much more of a psychological thriller than the book. However, I was pretty horrified by a scene where Jane was shown as sleeping with a gun under her pillow, with her young son by her side. Given what we know about gun violence in America, I was just left wondering why it needed to be added at all.
In terms of relationships, I liked the way everything was explored in the mini-series. The addition of Madeline’s affair was an interesting element, but I was a little sad the Madeline and Ed of the book weren’t the same on screen. They’d seemed to have a good relationship in the book and while I appreciated the extra emotional layers the revelation of the affair added to the story, it was a shame to see those cracks. Likewise, Ed was much more unsetting in the adaptation. The domestic violence in Celeste’s relationship was much more prominent, which could be triggering for some but is also a good way to show abuse can take many forms and happen in any economic situation.
Overall I really liked the darker tone the mini-series took. It was unsetting and just as compelling as the book. I’m intrigued to see Moriarty has been approached about writing a storyline for a second season and I must say I’m keen to return to these characters. After all, I listened to and watched the series back to back. I’m definitely hooked on Moriarty’s work now Hopefully we’ll see more adaptations of her work in the future.