When she performed she wore heels and long skirts made out of floaty material, wide enough so she could fit the cello between her knees. Seeing Clementine sit with her head bowed tenderly, passionately towards her cello, as if she were embracing it, one long tendril of hair falling just short of the strings, her arm bent at that strange geometric angle, was always so sensual, so exotic, so other to Erika. Each time she saw Clementine perform, even after all these years, Erika inevitably experienced a sensation like loss, as though she yearned for something unattainable. She’d always assumed that sensation represented something more complicated and interesting than envy because she had no interest in playing a musical instrument, but maybe it didn’t. Maybe it all came back to envy.
commentary: I didn’t set out to have a theme in this week’s books and blogposts, but it turned out there was one – this book is very different from The Long and Faraway Gone and Spencer’s List, but the three authors have a shared trait – read on to find out.
I loved two previous Liane Moriarty books – The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies – and so was very happy to read this one, courtesy of the publishers. She specializes in brilliant, hilarious, truthful observations of modern life, and in extremely tense situations and guessing games. This one is particularly difficult to talk about: you know from the beginning that something dreadful happened at a backyard barbeque on a Sunday afternoon. There were six people present, and some children, but you have no idea what happened till a long, long way into the book. Moriarty does well to keep the secret, as the reader tries to guess or work out from the tiny clues along the way. And there are a number of other surprises and revelations along the way. In fairness I can’t say much more about the major incident, and must be a bit vague about some other issues that come up.
So: the book is also a look at friendships, marriages, and different ways of life. It is laugh-out-loud funny, and also tremendously touching and affecting – parts of the ending had me in tears, over a most unexpected character.
As with her other books, the action is in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, and I learned a number of new words such as sunbaker, whipper-snipper, lolly, and galah.
Clementine and Erika, above, are the two women whose friendship is at the heart of the book, and although their particular issues are very specific and unusual, Moriarty’s picture of the ups and downs of friendship, the annoyances and compromises and negotiations, is perfectly done. What might have been formulaic – one messy one not, the question of children, the two mothers, the history of schooldays – is very much not so.
But all the other characters are excellent too – the third couple, Vid and Tiffany, hosts of the BBQ, are tremendous, fully realized and so believable. Tiffany’s sisters, even, not named or numbered, have more personality in their occasional mentions (like a Greek chorus in Tiffany’s life, though mostly in her head) than leading characters in some other books.
Moriarty shares with two of this week’s other authors - Lou Berney and Lissa Evans - a striking ability to make someone very annoying on one page, seen through one character’s eyes, and then to turn it round so you see things differently – but without necessarily subverting the earlier view. I will say: all three authors have a good-heart, and a generous way of looking at the world.
The ending is not as harsh as it might have been, and I felt very pleased with that - I think it was a tribute to Moriarty’s characters that I wanted as good an outcome as possible, or at least nothing too bad, after all that had gone before.
The picture of a cellist is from Wikimedia Commons, with this credit: By Nick Thackeray. - photo: Nick Thackeray. May 2007., CC BY-SA 3.0.