Australia’s Liane Moriarty has done it again, with a captivating story about something that we all think will never happen to us, but so easily could. You know, the story you hear about on the news about the family who did such and such and you react with a tut-tut because how could they possibly let that happen when it could have been so easily avoided. Moriarty is skilled at taking these scenarios and putting them into perspective as readers experience them through her ordinary, just-like-you-and-me characters and see that, in fact, bad things, unexpected things, can happen to anybody at any time – even you.
Truly Madly Guilty is the story of two couples, Clementine and Sam, and Erika and Oliver, who, on impulse, attend a barbeque at a neighbour’s house one weekend afternoon. This is an ordinary day, but what happens at the barbecue is far from ordinary, and forever changes the lives of everyone present.
Moriarty’s pacing of the novel towards the reveal kept me turning the pages. She transitions between chapters of the present day and flashbacks of “the day of the barbeque”, and the chapters of the latter tend to finish almost tangibly hanging in mid-air. Add to this the short, sometimes quite intense, chapters, and this is a winning formula to engage her readers. It is exciting to read contemporary, women’s fiction written with such a strong air of suspense, and Moriarty gets this right every time. What this book also has going for it is that the fine-tuned pace continues into the ending. Often rushed, and sometimes forced, this one feels just right and is pleasantly surprising.
The characters are interesting, some very colourful and bringing with them a bit of dark humour, and no matter if they are a main or minor character, they all feel well-padded and three-dimensional. All are easy to visualise and to empathise with and Moriarty plays with the dynamics of human interaction and relationships with a practised ease. She explores the effect of past relationships on those that come after, and how life events impact on the evolution of relationships. She also touches on, with great empathy, certain mental disorders. All of this is explored, and her characters are portrayed, with a sense of warmth and sensitivity, and the expression “don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” comes to mind at various intervals in the book.
Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty makes for a perfect winter read, enjoyed curled up on the couch or soaking in a hot bath until the water turns cold. I generally highly recommend this author, and this book is without exception. She delves into some deeply thought-provoking issues about marriage, parenthood, friendship and sex, and poses the question “what if?” Truly Madly Guilty is a must-read for any lover of gripping, satirical women’s fiction.