Big Little Lies
Amy Einhorn Books (Penguin Group)
Read from my local library
Pirriwee Public School is the only primary school in Pirrawee, a small beachside town in Sydney. Because of that, there’s an array of different families putting their students into school there and mixing at the school gate.
Madeline has done it all before – firstly as single mother with her now teenage daughter and then two years ago with Fred. Chloe is her last and Madeline is an old hand at the school routine and the mothers that congregate at the yard. Even though she’s now married again, she’s never forgiven her ex-husband for walking out on her when their daughter was just weeks old. Now Nathan lives in the same suburb as her with his new wife and their daughter is starting school with Chloe. To top it off, their teenage daughter seems to be preferring life at Nathan’s and bonding with Bonnie, Nathan’s wife. Madeline isn’t sure how to cope with this.
To everyone else, Celeste seems perfect. Married to the handsome, rich Perry who dotes on her, Celeste has a kind of beauty that stops people utterly in their tracks. She has twins and she’s always late and perpetually a bit flustered but everyone has a flaw. Now the twins are in school, Celeste will clearly be courted by all the mothers, keen to get in with her and her perfect life. But perfection comes at a price and no one has any idea what price Celeste is privately paying.
Jane is new and a young, single mother. Young enough to raise eyebrows and be mistaken for the nanny. When Jane’s son is accused of bullying a little girl in the kindergarten class, it sets in motion a chain of events that lead to a death. Madeline takes Jane under her wing, defending her passionately and soon it’s a split between the mothers – you’re either team one side or team the other.
I’ve heard such amazing things about this book and I’ve been hearing them for so long and I have finally got around to reading it! I’ve read most of Liane Moriarty’s previous books and I feel as though she gets better with each book and this book definitely proves that. For me, this is her best work yet and I loved it. I read it in just over three hours – could not put it down.
My eldest child started school this year so I was pretty interested in something that tackles the politics at the school gate. So far I’ve been pretty lucky in some ways. My son attended a different kinder to a lot of the other children so we didn’t know many other parents but through him making friends, we’ve met and made some friends ourselves. But that’s not to say that we haven’t witnessed some of the drama, changing friendships and one-upping that goes on. A lot of people keep to themselves though, we have a very varied mix of cultures at our school, something that does seem missing from this particular story. Given the book’s setting it’s probably unsurprising. The primary school in the book is the only one in a small coastal Sydney suburb (maybe the northern beaches? north shore? type area?) and therefore, you do get a strong economic spread. Celeste and her husband Perry are incredibly wealthy and there are other families too, with high flying career-oriented parents. At the other end of the scale is Madeline, comfortable with her husband Ed and Jane, a young single mother who works from home to pay the bills.
At the orientation day, one of the children is hurt and accuses another and basically, that’s the incident that sets in motion most of the rest of the book. The mother of the child that was hurt begins to wage a war and when school begins and it looks like the incidents are continuing, the campaign gets nastier. A petition is started, to get the child accused removed from the school. Bullying is a very hot topic at the moment, and rightfully so. It seems to get worse and worse each year and the culprits are getting younger and younger. And when it’s your child that’s getting picked on, it can be very difficult to keep a cool head. And I think it can be just as bad for the parent/s of the child accused of doing the hurting, or bullying. At this stage in their lives, they’re just 5 years old, barely past being babies. How do you deal with it in a meaningful way at such a young age? The irony is in that trying to protect their children, many of the mothers set a bad example for them, excluding Jane, the parent of the child accused and her son Ziggy as well, from birthday parties, etc.
There’s almost too much to talk about here, the issue of domestic violence and how it can happen to anyone, dealing with blended families, especially when your ex and his new wife live in the same small suburb. Being a single mother, possibly the only single mother in the class, etc. It’s a blistering look at the social construct and hierarchy of the school mother pyramid – I particularly liked the comment about the “Blonde Bobs”. There are a few Blonde Bobs at my son’s school as well! But what I really liked about this book was that it kept surprising me. There was lots I didn’t see coming and with each reveal, the story just went up a notch in terms of brilliance. I loved the way it was told, beginning in the present and going back to the orientation and then at various intervals in the school year before the Trivia Night where the major event happens. I loved the snippets of information from the mothers/fathers who were more minor characters in the book. It’s such a well written story, one that I think so many people can relate to, whether it be about taking your child to school for the first time or connecting to one of the more serious issues that was being explored here.
Book #243 of 2014
Big Little Lies is book #88 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014