Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: Big Little Lies

This entry is part 5 of 97 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

Here we are, back again for book four of my Man vs Bookshelf challenge and, so far, I’ve been racing through.

I finished Big Little Lies on Wednesday, 14 days after this challenge began.

That’s two books a week rather than the one a week needed to stay on target.

Pretty effin good.

I don’t expect the pace to keep up, of course, but it’s good to get ahead early on.

Anyway, so, book 4, Big Little Lies, is done, and what did I think of it?


Liane Moriarty and me

Usually, at this point, I’d talk about my past experiences with the author or, as with the last book, the character.

But I can’t do that this time around because I don’t have any past experiences. With author or characters.

In fact, I’d never even heard of Liane Moriarty before I heard of Big Little Lies.

Like many people, I guess, I only heard of Big Little Lies because of the Nicole Kidman-Reese Witherspoon TV show.

I did consider watching the show but something drew me to the book. I picked it up in Tesco and, for whatever reason, bought it. I don’t remember the blurb blowing me away.

More likely I had too much other TV to watch first, so took a punt on the book.

Turns out, it was a fantastic decision.


Big Little Lies

I gave Big Little Lies a 4/5 and I regret it.

80%. How is that fair?

I don’t want to bang on about Goodreads and their stupid 5-point scale but also I’m going to.

This book deserved at least a nine. But I cant justify giving something 100%. That’s ridiculous. Nothing is perfect.

4/5. I have to live with that forever.

I should have just given it a five.

This is the first book in my challenge that has made me hate Man vs Bookshelf with a passion.

Not because it was so bad and I knew I had to get through it. Because I now want to read every single thing Liane has ever written and I’M NOT ALLOWED FOR LIKE FOUR YEARS.

That alone is indicative of how good this book is. It’s well written, the characters are great, the central mystery is compelling and it’s very very funny.

For anyone out there yet to read it – whether you think you’ll like it or not – I implore you to give it a go.

Except, of course, if it’s going to get in the way of you reading my book.

Structure

So thinking about what works well in the book, the structure comes to mind immediately.

Using a flash forward of a murder then going back and building up to it is a well-worn writing tactic, but it’s risky. Get it wrong and it fails in its aim building suspense and excitement for the audience. Worse, fail to hit the mark, and it looks like a cheap, tacky trick.

Liane Moriarty doesn’t get it wrong, though. She pulls it off with aplomb (assuming “aplomb” is good)

We know from the beginning there has been a murder, but we don’t know who, by whom, or why. We then jump back six months and for the rest of the book we are counting down to the murder through handy headings. “Four months to Trivia Night” etc.

The affect is further enhanced through “talking head” style journalist interviews. All with people there on the night of the murder. These both serve to build suspense and to be funny as fuck. Especially when it comes to Samantha. I love Samantha.

It’s clever too. I’m great at guessing twists and mysteries, usually, but I didn’t guess this. I didn’t know who had done the killing or even who got killed until Liane was kind enough to tell me.

Even more important. When the climax and reveal came, I wasn’t disappointed. Throughout the night of the murder, when I knew it was coming, my heart was pounding. By the time we arrived at the point I knew it was about to happen, it was beating so fast you might have thought I feared for my own life. Not to mention I was turning pages so fast I was tearing pages out. And it was my bedtime!

I was desperate to find out.

Then I did, and it was as satisfying as I’d expected.

 That’s how well the structure works.

Humour in the tough stuff

This is a very funny book. I cannot stress that enough. And what Liane excels at is making some difficult subject matter funny.

It’s a strange thing about comedy. There are some ‘dark’ topics that are easy to make funny and some that are more difficult to pull off.

Murder, for example, has always been a great source of comedy, and Liane uses this.

One more difficult is domestic abuse. Yet one of our leads here is being abused by her husband. Real dodgy ground for comedy that.

But Liane pulls it off.

And it’s more than that. She keeps it funny without diminishing the effect of the storyline. The way she portrays the struggle of our abused lead is so well done. It’s not your standard brute alcoholic husband beating his wife. It shows a different side to domestic abuse.

A side where we have a dad who is wonderful to his kids, kind to his friends, generous and giving. Most of the time he’s even a great husband. And the victim (I’m not saying the name here for spoiler reasons, by the way, I haven’t forgotten) uses this to rationalise what is happening to her. We can see that what he’s doing is wrong. That all the good doesn’t balance out the abuse. But she can’t, and more important, we can understand why she’s thinking the way she’s thinking.

So it is funny, but it’s not a joke.

That’s why it works.

Unputdownable?

These days critics throw the term “unputdownable” at pretty much every book on the shelves. To the point that it is becoming farcical. I actually picked up a 600-page book the other week on which was the claim: “I challenge you not to read this in one sitting”.

Spurious doesn’t cover it.

I took that challenge. I won. Where’s my prize?

My edition of Big Little Lies does not have any comment calling it “unputdownable” on the front. Presumably, the marketing team thought the top half of the heads of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and, um, the other one, would be enough to generate sales.

But, for me, it was one of those rare books I actually did not want to put down. I read it in three days and, if anyone asked me to write a quote for the book cover (which I accept is unlikely), I would write:

“You will not be able to put this book down until you look at your clock and realise it’s gone midnight and think ‘enough is enough, I’ve got work tomorrow’”.

Because that’s a genuine comment and still highlights the truth of Big Little Lies.

That it’s a top quality book.

‘Nuff said.


Next time

We’re sticking with comedy, but in a different field next.

I’m taking on Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman in a book almost as old as I am.

Good Omens.

See you then.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: Devil May CareMan vs Bookshelf: Good Omens >>
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International worst selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). Recently he is taking the internet by storm with his Man vs Bookshelf Challenge where he aims to read the 210 books on his bookshelf in 210 weeks, reviewing them on his blog and Goodreads along the way. He is also publishing books on Amazon, his most recent being the family suspense novel, Poor Choices, which you can find here.

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