Book Review: ‘Big Little Lies’ by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies

Parents do tend to judge each other. I don’t know why. Maybe because none of us really know what we’re doing? And I guess that can sometimes lead to conflict. Just not normally on this sort of scale.

Here’s the thing, chicken wing. For the most part, I enjoyed reading Big Little Lies. It does have strong female characters and deal with some important and relevant themes in today’s world of parenting and adulthood, but I feel like the fact that this book was adapted into a critically acclaimed and overhyped HBO series with big-name stars has made us lose sight of what Big Little Lies is: it’s pulpy, it’s frothy, and it’s shallow, and it was intended that way.

I was first turned onto Liane Moriarty’s books about three years ago, when I read What Alice Forgot and loved it. I also enjoyed The Hypnotist’s Love Story, but eventually I made my way to The Husband’s Secret and started to get bored: her books almost always deal with slow-moving domestic plots with strong characters, but she started to be a bit of a hit-or-miss author for me when her slow-moving plots started to have unsatisfying and/or anticlimactic conclusions. But I never gave it too much thought, since Moriarty’s books have more or less always been quick and easy chick lit, with just enough substance but not so much that we can consider them “deep.”

Big Little Lies is fine and enjoyable. It deals with relatable characters in relatable domestic situations, and hits the nail on the head in terms of close-knit cliques of moms in elementary schools and schoolyard scandals. But it’s shallow, it’s frothy, and not in any way groundbreaking. And that’s fine. Not every book has to carry the weight of the world and make us see things in a new light or push any boundaries. But I think the fact that this book was adapted into such a high-powered HBO series with some really big actors, directors and producers has made us lose sight of the fact that this was most probably written and intended in the same vein as Moriarty’s other books: quick and relatable domestic stories that are just relatable and relevant enough to not be seen as too shallow or glib. But having an overhyped adaption of a story that isn’t all that special to begin with seems to have shined a light on the bare truth: Big Little Lies is more than a little cliché, and where it fails is that its shallow and frothy nature kind of takes away from the heavy and socially relevant issues it attempts to tackle and de-stigmatize, such as domestic violence (a particular storyline which, despite being such an important issue, I felt should have been more compelling and lacked a certain amount of depth). 

I don’t mean to bash the book in any way. I really did enjoy a lot of it. I wish I could just turn off my critical brain while reading and enjoy froth for froth’s sake. It also just goes to show that I clearly had much more tolerance for froth when I read What Alice Forgot and The Hypnotist’s Love Story years ago. Big Little Lies is very well written, and Moriarty really does hit the nail on the head with a lot of its central themes. You can very easily detect the well thought out structure of the plot and how each character is well-rounded and serves a purpose. There’s an interesting (but not amazingly clever) twist at the end, and everything resolves itself very tidily and satisfyingly. If anything, Big Little Lies is a great template for writing books that will sell, if you ever need a good example. I just think the hype surrounding its cable TV adaption has made people lose touch with what the book really is by design: something to enjoy, but not something to expect too much from. 3/5 stars.

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