Book Review: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly Guilty…

Book Description:

If only they’d said no…

What if they hadn’t gone? That’s the question Clementine can’t stop asking herself. It was just an ordinary backyard barbeque on a Sunday afternoon. They didn’t know their hosts that well. They were friends of friends. They could so easily have said no.

But she and her husband Sam said yes, and now they can never change what they did and didn’t do that beautiful winter’s day.

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One yapping dog. It’s a normal weekend in the suburbs. What could possibly go wrong?

Once again Liane Moriarty uses her unique, razor-sharp observational skills to sift through the emerging fault lines of seemingly happy families.

It was just an ordinary Sunday afternoon…

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My Thoughts:

In Liane Moriarty’s most recent novel, Truly Madly Guilty, the ripple effects of a single incident are deconstructed and examined in the most intricate manner.

While I haven’t read all of Liane’s novels yet, out of the ones that I have, this is by far the most drawn out in terms of knowing what was actually going on. It’s quite a thick book, clocking in just over 500 pages, but it wasn’t until I hit page 300 or so, that I began to see the story take shape. Given that 300 pages is more than most commercial fiction novels contain in total, it’s testimony to my faith in Liane’s writing skill, that I hadn’t already given up. For me, the second half of the novel travelled along much better than the first. The heavy element of suspense was still present, but with the confusion and constant guessing game dispensed with, I was able to just knuckle down and enjoy the story for what it was: an excellent examination of guilt and the effect this has on all sorts of relationships.

Erika and Clementine are ‘best friends’, but they really aren’t. Thrown together by Clementine’s  mother and her social cons, the two women have a relationship steeped in guilt and obligation. I spent much of the novel feeling sorry for Clementine. Her mother, Pam, essentially forces Clementine as a child to befriend Erika and then does everything she can to ensure the two girls are always together. Pam’s sympathy for Erika’s neglectful and traumatic home situation cloud her judgement and the ripple effect of her ‘good deed’ continues to be felt by Clementine decades later. Clementine is dogged by a sense of obligation to Erika, even though she doesn’t particularly like her or share any of the same interests. Being Erika’s friend is just something that has always been required of her, as per her mother’s request and continuing expectation, and it really did rouse my sympathy towards Clementine, who was essentially being manipulated by her mother, and used by Erika. It wasn’t until close to the end that I saw the harm this forced friendship had done to Erika as well. She was consumed by her own sense of obligation and guilt, resulting in a rather toxic friendship for both women. Against this backdrop, we also have husbands, Clementine’s two insufferably spoilt daughters, parents, and neighbours, all crashing together with a major incident, an enormous request, and a relentless downpour of rain that seemed to just go on for weeks.

The perfect list of ingredients for a Liane Moriarty novel!

As is usual from Liane Moriarty, character development was excellent. I found myself veering back and forth between liking and loathing each character, although Sylvia, Erika’s mother, was often funny, she was never likable and I felt Erika’s burden and forgave her every snarky transgression each time Sylvia entered a scene. Vid and Tiffany were my firm favourites throughout the novel. There really wasn’t much to not like about Vid. He jumped off the page as one of those memorable characters who lift every scene they’re written into. Tiffany was a lovely woman, genuinely kind and moralistic, and Liane did a great job at taking a stereotype and shaping it into a character that was so in contrast to people’s usual expectations. Through her trademark wit and unflinching honesty, all of the characters in Truly Madly Guilty were solidly crafted, realistically flawed and strong in equal measure. The internal dialogue was brilliant, with plenty of laugh out loud moments throughout, despite the serious nature of what was hovering over all of the characters.

In terms of plot, the use of the unrelenting rain, post BBQ, was an excellent technique. The longer the rain hung around, the more the incident seemed to weigh on the characters. For weeks the rain didn’t let up, and neither did their guilt and self-loathing. Then the rain stopped, a bright new day dawned, and each of the characters turned a corner, stepping that much closer towards resolution and a new future. All of the various threads flapping about tied neatly together and I particularly liked the little incidental connections that popped up throughout. Nothing in a Liane Moriarty novel is ever mentioned by accident! Consider yourself forewarned.

Overall, this was an excellent novel, despite being so long, and quite similar to Big Little Lies in terms of flash back story telling and interconnecting characters. I read it as a bookclub pick and look forward to dissecting it at our next meeting!

Truly Madly Guilty is book 23 in my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

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