Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty (2016)

I’ve just finished reading the newest novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty, Truly Madly Guilty, and I found it to be as wonderful and satisfying as I do all of her novels. However, while the book touched on all of the themes that she so wonderfully delves into in her books — including marriage, mental illness, parenting, and friendship — this novel had, overall, a much more serious and somber tone that her books generally do. This book found Moriarty writing a much more subdued novel than usual (certainly more so than her funny, wonderful, wild Big Little Lies) which noticeably less melodrama and much more….well, drama.

As always, Moriarty introduces us to characters that are well-drawn, relatable, and whose internal and external struggles feel very familiar, as accurate and intense as ones we too might experience. Here, we meet Clementine a professional cellist and married mother of two whose career is struggling under her familial demands. Her husband, Sam, is a modern father and husband, happily sharing the raising of her daughters with Clementine even if he does like to lord over his wife his superior brand of parenting. The couple has long-term but very intense relationship with a woman, Erika, who was a de facto foster child in Clementine’s home growing up. Erika and Clementine have a relationship based shared past peppered with deep veins of distrust and envy. Erika and her husband Oliver play a strange role in the lives of the Clementine and her family, something less like friends and more like acquaintances who share, sometimes unwillingly, private moments together.

As is her practice, the author tells the story out of order, weaving together past and present events from the points of view of all of the stories narrators; telling the story of how dramatic events can bring some people together and tears others apart. Also of note, are the book’s tender and nuanced portrayals of the complex and terrifying realities of mental illness. In this particular book, it is not only two female characters who struggle, but also one of the male characters as well.

Just as her books always do, Moriarty’s stories feel so possible, as if our lives, too, are just one afternoon — one moment — away from changing forever. The stories are so real that they are unsettling because readers can always see themselves in at least one, if not all, of her characters. It is impossible to read her stories and not think “what would I do? would my marriage survive? would I survive?”

 

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty (2004)

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Last night I picked up Three Wishes, the debut novel by Australian author and queen of the juicy melodrama Liane Moriarty, and was instantly addicted. Now, since I have read all of her other novels I should have known better than to start one of her books at 9pm, but I could not help myself. Like in many of her novels, her book begins with the climatic ending (or almost-ending) and then works backward, in starts and fits using all three primary narrators interchangeably, to fill in the events leading up to the opening chapter. In a matter of a few pages, I was drawn into the deliciously scandalous story and could not stop until my husband finally begged me to turn out the lights at 1am. I woke up and immediately finished!

Three Wishes tells the story of the three Kettle triplets — Lyn, Cat, and Gemma — and is filled with all of the witty, sexy, naughty, and shocking plot twists that Moriarty is famous for and employs almost all of the themes that frequently appear in her novels, including adultery, infertility, divorce, domestic violence, familial tension, and — of course — desperately romantic love. Each sister takes us through her life, past and present, and gives us a glimpses at the messy, complicated moments that have filled the thirty-four years the sisters have been alive.

At the center of the story is the exploration of the tremendous, and at times terrifying, power that the people we love have over our lives. In an instant, one shocking revelation of a secret kept and the ground can shift beneath our feet. The lives we believe we have been living are stripped of meaning and the people around us can seem like strangers. Decades of events can, if not evaporate, but become instantly drained of happiness. Each sister must grapple with betrayals great and small and try to adjust to their “different realities.” With each secret reveled, they must reflect backward on the events they thought defined them, “What would happen to their stories now? Would it be like they never happened? Would they have to rewrite all of their histories?”

The very same people who have the power to disrupt our lives also have the power to restore us through love, compassion, and humor. While the story tells of a family tested by the traumatic events, it also tells of their amazing capacity to support, love and forgive one another as well. The result is a novel that is deliciously scandalous,  heartbreaking, funny, and deeply moving all at once.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty (2005)

As a fan of all of Liane Moriarty’s novels, I was excited to pick up The Last Anniversary and find that I had left one unread. The day before we left for our annual beach trip, I settled in to bed early and read the entire book. While not as wonderful as some of her other novels (my favorite remains Big Little Lies), it was filled with great character portraits and juicy family dramas that she is know for.

The novel tells the story of the members of an extended Australian family who live on Scribbly Gum Island off the coast of Sydney. Deftly moving between the points of view of the various members of the family, and also moving us back and forth through time, Moriarty presents current-day dramas as well as the moments in the past — stretching as far back as the 1930’s — that led up to them.

When the story begins, we meet our main character Sophie who, at almost forty, is feeling panicked at the thought that she has missed her chance for marriage and family. She finds herself dwelling on her most recent boyfriend Thomas — whose proposal she turned down two years prior — when she is shocked to learn that his aunt has died and left Sophie a house on Scribbly Gum.

This bequest to give the house to a non-family member stirs up hostility and ill-will among the family, all of who are struggling with other issues beyond that of the loss of their Aunt and her unusual will. Each member of the family tells her or his story, past and present, in their own voice and allows us to see what is prompting their, sometimes outsized, reactions to recent goings on.

We meet Rose; an aging woman who swamped by grief and is growing tried of secrets. Also Grace, a beautiful artist so deep in the clutches of post-partum depression that she is nearly suicidal. Grace’s husband Callum who deeply loves his wife but is terrified of how much she has changed since the baby arrived. Margie, an overweight, middle-aged woman who has recently decided her life is no longer working for her, including her marriage to the mean and small-minded Ron. Veronika, a young woman filled inexplicably with rage toward her family and friends and who is working to pit them all against one another. Finally, the head of the family and local celebrity Enigma who relishes her role as local legend and family secret-keeper and who is getting very put out by her family’s lack of interest in keeping secrets secret.

Their stories unfold together and in the end paint a deep and touching picture of a family…in all it’s loud, messy, loving, complicated, and funny glory.

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Map from the book jacket of The Last Anniversary.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty (2011)

Australian author Liane Moriarty is famous for her wild, saucy, melodramas that more often than not feature unexpected plot twists, dark secrets uncovered, and surprise (but mostly happy) endings. In short, all her books are great fun to read. This novel was another wonderful book but with a slightly less wild story arc.

The story’s main character, Ellen, has just begun a promising relationship with a widower and father named Patrick. She is full of romantic ideas about love and relationships and desperately hopes that Patrick is “the one” so that she can finally begin to build a family of her own. However, she soon comes to realize that relationships between two adults with full, messy lives are much more complicated than she had fantasized. “She felt panicky whenever she experienced even a moment’s irritation with Patrick. She had to remain vigilant; any cracks in the relationship had to be patched up immediately. That was absolutely vital.”

Ellen and Patrick are not the only ones in their relationship: they must share each other with Patrick’s young son, her family and his, the ever-present memory of his dead wife (and her family), and — shockingly — Patrick’s stalker. Yes, his stalker. Patrick had entered into a relationship too soon after his wife’s death and it had not ended well, causing his ex, Saskia, to go crazy. For more than three years she has been tormenting Patrick and, upon learning about Ellen, begins to stalk her as well. Saskia becomes the novel’s second narrator, giving readers very chilling insight into her unstable mind and just how deep her obsessions run.

As the book progresses, Ellen must really grapple with how different her life is turning out to be from her daydreams and we get wonderful (and at times very funny) access to her musings — about love, marriage, motherhood, work and more. As her life grows messier and messier, Ellen begins to blur the line between her work as a hypnotist and her role as a girlfriend: soon she begins to make “gentle suggestions” to Patrick to improve his flaws and find out what he is really thinking. She so badly wants this relationship to work that she is willing to bend her our ethics code to look inside Patrick’s mind, often, with results that leave her less than satisfied.

The novel does a fantastic job presenting readers with the reality — and at times hilarity — of modern love for people over thirty-five. Even when we see the story through Saskia the Stalker’s eyes, we see just how hard it can to find and lose love and how desperate one can become when striving to hold onto it, even when letting go seems like the obvious choice.