Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies

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Big Little Lies Summary

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Set in coastal Sydney, Big Little Lies (2014), Australian author Liane Moriarty’s mystery thriller, follows three friendly women who are at different crossroads in their lives. Madeline Mackenzie is a sassy single mother who is resentful of her daughter; Celeste Wright is a world-class beauty hiding a turbulent relationship with her husband; Jane Chapman is a young single mother who just moved to town carrying a dark secret from her past. When a mysterious death occurs, forcing each woman to confront her traumatic history, a harrowing chain of events takes place that allows each woman to find strength and to forge a healing path. Big Little Lies, a New York Times bestseller, has been called “a hell of a good book…funny and scary” by Stephen King, a “gripping satirical hit” by, and “fun, engaging, and sometimes disturbing” by USA Today. In 2017, the novel was adapted into a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning HBO miniseries, starring Reese Witherspoon as Madeline, Nicole Kidman as Celeste, and Shailene Woodley as Jane.

Narrated in the third person omniscient perspective, the story begins in the coastal suburbs of Sydney, Australia’s Northern Beaches. A flash forward to the pivotal climax of the story is given, in which a melee takes place outside of the local Pirriwee Public elementary school. A Mrs. Patty Ponder observes the fracas from across the street, as the school had held its annual costume party trivia night event earlier in the evening. Several fathers of the schoolchildren shove and shout at one another until the chapter cuts away to a police detective interviewing several eyewitnesses. The police inform the interviewees that they are investigating a recent murder.

The story jumps back many months before the events on trivia night, where the three main characters are introduced. Jane Chapman is a young woman who recently moved to town to escape a dark secret she is too vulnerable to share with anyone. Jane’s son Ziggy, whose father is unidentified, is starting kindergarten at Pirriwee Public at the outset of the story. On the way to school, Jane meets Madeline Mackenzie, a sassy forty-year-old gossip-queen whose youngest daughter is in the same grade as Ziggy. Madeline’s friend Celeste Wright, a beautiful trophy wife for her rich husband Perry, has twin sons, Max and Josh, who are also set to attend kindergarten at Pirriwee.

As the three women forge a fast friendship, each woman’s secret slowly comes to light when Renata Klein accuses of Ziggy of bullying her daughter, Amabella, during class orientation. Ziggy denies bullying Amabella, and Jane, Madeline, and Celeste stick up for him. Tensions escalate for Jane and Ziggy when Renata circulates a petition around the school to get Ziggy suspended for bullying. Since there is no physical evidence or eyewitness proof, the school cannot punish Ziggy. This forces the rest of the parents to choose sides.

As the months pass, Celeste’s domestic troubles become known when it is discovered Perry is physically abusing her. He hits her almost nightly, but Celeste is too ashamed to tell anyone. Worse, she feels she is at fault for driving Perry to physical violence. As the women grow closer, Jane finds the strength to share the identity of Ziggy’s father, Saxon Banks. Jane admits that Saxon raped and humiliated her on the beach during their one-night stand. Celeste is horrified to learn that Saxon Banks is related to Perry.

Later, Jane discovers that Ziggy secretly knows who has been bullying Amabella and convinces him to write the name down on a piece of paper. Jane learns Celeste’s son, Max, has been bullying Amabella. However, Jane finds it too difficult to tell Celeste at first. Eventually, Celeste learns of Max’s bad behavior and that Amabella isn’t the only child Max has bullied. Celeste finds out that Max has been abused by Perry and has begun to pick up his father’s violent and aggressive behavior. Madeline attempts to help her friends but is beset with her own domestic issues. Madeline’s eldest daughter, Abigail, decides to live with her father, Nathan, and stepmother, Bonnie. Abigail becomes involved in charity work and decides to auction off her virginity for a charitable cause, much to Madeline’s chagrin.

The story loops around to the fateful trivia night at Pirriwee Public. Jane meets Perry for the first time and realizes that he and Saxon Banks are one and the same. When Jane confronts Perry, he flies into a violent rage and hits Celeste. As a result, Bonnie pushes Perry over the edge of the balcony. Bonnie confesses to witnessing her mother being abused in a similar fashion as a child, and lashed out instinctively when seeing Perry’s aggressive behavior. As the police arrive, everyone wants to keep the murder a secret. However, Bonnie steps forward and claims responsibility for Perry’s death. She confesses because she doesn’t want to see the families suffer any further. The novel ends with Celeste’s decision to raise her sons in an environment unlike the one Perry encouraged. While mourning the death of her husband, Celeste finds the courage to begin healing by giving a public speech on domestic violence, urging all to consider that such abuse can happen to anyone.

Big Little Lies is Liane Moriarty’s sixth adult fiction novel, following Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, and The Husband’s Secret. Moriarty has written two novels since, including Truly Madly Guilty and Nine Perfect Strangers. She has also written a children’s novel trilogy known as The Space Brigade series, which includes The Petrifying Problem with Princess Petronella, The Shocking Trouble on the Planet of Shobble, and The Wicked War on the Planet of Whimsy.