I was walking leisurely through the Westfield Mall one chilly Saturday afternoon (winter is just over in this part of the world) when I saw the Dymocks store and suddenly had this craving for a new “physical” book (I am so bored of reading on Kindle!). I went in and with some help from the shop assistant, zeroed in on 2 books. This would also be my first brush with an Australian author’s work so I was excited and more so because the back cover suggested that “Truly Madly Guilty” by Liane Moriarty, is set in Sydney, home to me now.
The story revolves around a Sunday afternoon barbecue in a fancy suburban home in Sydney where something happens – something really bad that could have been avoided. The three couples who are present in the barbeque question themselves, feel “guilty” and wish that they had not been part of the event in the very first place.
Vid, a commercial electrician and his pole dancer turned property developer wife Tiffany, are hosts to the barbeque that is the focal point of the plot. They live in a sprawling house with their daughter Dakota and a pet dog. Vid invites their neighbours Erika and Oliver and suggests having over Erika’s childhood friend and an attractive cellist, Clementine and her husband Sam. Their small daughters – Holly and Ruby also join the party.
Liane Moriarty peels an onion of a plot and we are slowly let into the fraught friendship between Erika and Clementine, Clementine’s fear regarding her big audition, Erika’s disturbed childhood owing to her mother’s hoarding issues. Each character is carefully brought to life with their inner turmoils, insecurities of a suburban marriage and the disappointment of a couple trying for a family.
However, the actual incident is kept as a very well-guarded secret till about two-thirds of the book, with the author showing glimpses of the events leading up to the fateful day – right up to hours, minutes and seconds and then just when you start believing “okay, something is going to happen now”, she cuts off the flow and you land in the current reality with a thud. Moriarty deftly uses this ploy time and again. The story lacks pace at times, dragging through the narration of the main characters.
And all the while, this build up happens, you tend to think “whatever it is, it better be good”. All the characters are alive so what could have possibly gone so wrong, that too in a barbeque? When the actual incident is finally revealed the first thing that I felt was a disappointment. It was like being let down after raising the expectation so much. I was like “Okay, it’s a big jerk, but was it really worth this much of suspense?” There was too much time spent in getting there and then phew it's over in few more minutes. As if the author was in a hurry to bring the lives of the characters back on track in a jet speed.
One of the reasons, I picked this book up, was because of its setting in Sydney. But save for few fleeting references to the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, it could have the backdrop of any other city in the world.
In spite of the bits of disappointment, if there is one thing that the writer has been marvellous at is delving into the psychological aspect of Erika and Clementine. The strains of their childhood friendship and the obligations that came with it are very relatable. Harry, a grumpy old man and neighbour to Vid, makes a mark even in his limited “page” time. This was a brilliant addition to the story and without him, the ends would have hung loose.
• Excellent characterisation
• Clever ploy to hold on to the suspense
• Easy to read but not a chick- lit
• Strong female protagonists
• Slow pace
• Climax little overrated
• Rushed wrap up
BGS rating: 3.8/5
Photography: Vids Picsography