I shouldn’t have undertaken to review another Liane Moriarty. She’s Sydney, I’m Melbourne. She’s popular, I prefer literary. She’s plain vanilla whitebread middle class bleeding heart first world problems, and I like my reading just a little bit grittier.
Moriarty is of course a best-selling author with six novels and some children’s books under her belt. I recently reviewed no.5, Big Little Lies after listening to the audio version and to my great regret, promised to actually read her before passing final judgement. So here goes with no.6, Truly Madly Guilty (2016). I can confidently predict that I won’t be reading no.7 (nor no.s 1-4).
The action centres around four characters, two couples, Erika and Oliver, Clementine and Sam, thirtyish, Sydney-ites of course, from innerish (unnamed) northern suburbs. Erika and Oliver’s suburb posher, more suburban, Clementine and Sam’s older, trendier. Erik and Oliver are nerdy, accountants, childless, had difficult childhoods. Erika’s mother has a serious hoarding disorder, Oliver’s parents are alcoholics. Clementine is a cellist, Sam does something in marketing. Their daughters, Holly and Ruby are 5 and 2. Clementine is Erika’s best friend.
There are not many other characters to fill the (excessive) 500 pages – Erika and Oliver’s neighbours, Vid, a Slovenian electrical contractor, his wife Tiffany a property developer, and as it turns out, former exotic dancer, and their 10 yo daughter Dakota. Vid and Tiffany’s neighbour on the other side, the elderly, angry Harry, makes occasional, eventually crucial, appearances.
“‘This is a story that begins with a barbeque’, said Clementine.” But, in fact, Truly Madly Guilty commences in the weeks and months after ‘the barbeque’ and continually circles back, in what seems to be trademark Moriarty style, with gradual reveals, using the point of view of whichever character is most convenient at the time.
No spoilers, I’ll just go on for a bit longer with generalities. Vid, a loud, enthusiastic man, holds a backyard barbeque for everyone I’ve mentioned above (except Harry). Something happens. It might be sexual, Sam and Oliver are pretty taken with Tiffany.
[Tiffany] walked over to within chatting distance and noted Oliver’s terrified glance at her cleavage. He fixed his eyes desperately on her forehead as if she were a test. Yeah, buddy, I’m a test, but you pass every time.
Tiffany might be taken with Clementine – or perhaps she’s just arousing the men – and is about to do a lap dance for her (on her?) when the something which happens happens.
They are all traumatised and in the following months struggle to cope. Marriages are tested.
[Erika] took a breath. Her husband was upset. Extremely upset by the look of it. So he probably wanted and needed to ‘share’. People with dysfunctional childhoods like hers didn’t have the best interpersonal skills when it came to relationships. Well it was just a fact. No one had modelled a healthy relationship for her. No one had modelled a healthy relationship for Oliver either. They had their dysfunctional relationships in common. That’s why Erika had invested close to six thousand dollars to date in high-quality therapy.
Sam wants another child, Clementine doesn’t. Sam stops sleeping with Clementine, which seems an odd way to go about it. Erika and Clementine’s friendship is tested. They have been friends since school, when Clementine’s mother, Pam instructed her to play with the lonely Erika, and Erika has ever since treated Pam as something of a foster mother.
‘That little girl needs a friend,’ [Pam] told Clementine … So Clementine went and sat down opposite Erika in the playground and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And she’d glanced over at her mother for the nod of approval, because Clementine was being kind, and kindness was the most important thing of all, except that Clementine didn’t feel kind. She was faking it. She didn’t want anything to do with this dirty-looking girl.
Clementine had “learned to feel bad about her white middle-class privilege long before it became fashionable”, so at least Moriarty is self-aware, perhaps she is just writing to her audience. Clementine goes on “faking it” and the two become bound by a shared history if not by shared affection.
Clementine … tried to imagine her life without Erika in it: without the aggravation, followed always by the guilt. A melody with only two notes: aggravation, guilt, aggravation, guilt.
Erika and Oliver want a child, but can’t. The reveals around this pad out the earlier part of the novel. We learn bits about Harry. Dakota who had been delegated to ‘play with’ the two younger girls at the barbeque is subdued, maybe guilty. Erika and Oliver attempt to clean up Erika’s mother’s house but chuck it in. Clementine who is meant to be concentrating on an upcoming audition at the Sydney Opera House has instead taken up public speaking to small audiences in suburban halls.Why? She feels guilty about the something that happened at the barbeque. Obviously.
500 pages is definitely too long for such slight material, but it is easy reading and if this is your preferred mode of relaxation you’ll knock it off in 5 or 6 hours. Me, I might go and watch an old episode of Friends.
Liane Moriarty, Truly Madly Guilty, Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 2016
I try and post once a week, on Fridays, but I have so many reviews done or in train that I thought I’d get this one out of the way, out of order so to speak. Treat it as a bonus.