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.
Very glad you enjoyed this, Moira. And isn't it interesting how your posts ended up having some sort of theme...whether you saw it coming or not. There are definitely some authors who can create characters whose fates you really care about; and to me, that's a sign of talent. Also, thanks for mentioning Moriarty, as I've been wanting to spotlight her work.ReplyDelete
I think Moriarty is a great writer Margot - such a skilled plotter as well as a creator of great characters and very funny lines. And it was nice to read authors who have a clear-sighted, but somehow still mellow, view of the world.Delete
Sounds more you than me, I reckon.ReplyDelete
Yeah - if you didn't have enough in the tubs I'd probably push it more to you.Delete
Moira, this does sound like a beautiful book, if I could put it that way, probably the better of all three of Liane Moriarty's novels.ReplyDelete
I was amused and entertained, and enjoyed the tension and plotting, but also, yes, found it very affecting.Delete
Moira: It seems your sub-conscience has been working hard but now that the theme is conscious the sub-conscience can relax unless the theme is actually a compulsion which would drive the sub-conscience into overdrive but as you are now conscious of the theme you should be able to halt the compulsion.ReplyDelete
I will bear that in mind if I can work out what it means! I hope to find more such themes in my reading...Delete
I found The Husband's Secret really gripping and well written - but there was a twist at the end that I really didn't like - can't say more! However I will probably include this in my holiday reading, because it does sound good.ReplyDelete
I really enjoy her books - I've only recently realized that she wrote some before The Husband's Secret. I will be on the lookout for them.Delete
I'm trying to work out what you didn't like about HS....
This one sounds interesting but since I limit my reading of newer books, I will wait a while to give it a try. I have been meaning to read something by this author, maybe something will turn up at the book sale. Close to 6 weeks now. Even though I am really, really going to limit the number of books I buy there, I am still excited. I love to be in a huge room of books.ReplyDelete
And what will your limit be, Tracy? And will you stick to it? Looking forward to the usual roundup of what you've bought.Delete
I do recommend this author.. when the moment is right you might find her to your taste.
Answering that question just a LITTLE late... I would really love to keep it under 50 books. Usually it is much closer to 100. But since my son promises to take me many times and I want to look at too many different sections, it will be very very hard.Delete
I'll be watching to see what you actually buy! I do envy you the experience - I'm sure I wouldn't keep to my limit either.Delete
I've been meaning to read one of Moriarty's books, so I'll have to pick one, maybe The Husband's Secret, which sounds intriguing.ReplyDelete
The New York Times Book Review for this weekend features Moriarty in their "By the Book" column and it''s quite interesting and fun. She gives her favorite authors and humorous answers to questions. It's posted at the NY Times website.
I just went over and read it, very endearing! Thanks for pointing it out. I think she is an excellent writer, very clever and very funny, and with something else, a kind of depth of feeling...Delete
I had a very bad cold and have been confined to bed and so I've just finished reading this book today.ReplyDelete
She is a clever and talented writer, although I confess I got a little irritated with the drawn out saga of the barbeque. Nonetheless I loved the book. She is so humane, so subtle, she really is one of the few writers who can use one paragraph to show a character.
And there were two characters who I thought were totally without charm - so why did I totally love them at the end of the book?
This would be the perfect book if you are stuck in bed! Yes, my only criticism would be that the 'not-saying' went on a tad too long. But I forgive her anything for writing books that are so funny, and tense, and warm-hearted - and look at deep issues.Delete