Truly Madly Guilty is bestselling Australian author Liane Moriarty’s seventh novel, a gripping story centring on three couples whose pleasant lives in an affluent Sydney suburb are blown apart by events that occur at a summer barbecue. In this unremarkable setting tragedies can and do take place, hidden in plain sight.
The story is structured in an unusual and page-turning way with chapters going back and forward in time before and after a barbecue. This allows the building of suspense and a gradual unfolding of perspectives leading to the climax three quarters of the way through, where the narrative catches up with the events on the day of the barbecue.
We follow several points of view, which adds texture and richness to the story, with a cast of very different characters, from the jovial extrovert electrician Vid and his sexy, younger wife to the beautiful couple cellist Clementine and husband Sam with their two sparky and cherubic daughters, to the uncool Erika and Oliver. Erika has known Clementine since they were both in Primary school and has a feeling of love/hate towards her and a sort of longing for her perfect life. She and her husband are the opposite of the carefree Clementine and Sam, keeping fit, eating healthily and trying unsuccessfully to become pregnant. One glorious scene, an example of the vein of humour which runs richly through the story, is when Oliver asks Clementine if she will donate some of her eggs to Erika.
An especial pleasure in the book is the fine-tuned and keen ear for how people speak. There is Oliver, desperate to become a father, and the brilliant way he speaks to Clementine and Sam’s daughters. Or Sylvia, Erika’s impossible, hoarding mother who uses rapier wit to attack people. And the neighbour Harry’s whose internal monologue late in the book gives a poignant insight into why he is seen by others as grumpy and bad tempered.
Alongside the comedy and satire observing the habits of those living an affluent urban Australian life, there is understanding of the suffering of the human condition. Difficult and near tragic issues are raised and there are thought-provoking observations on the universal concerns we share about our partners, parents, children and work. But, overall, this is an uplifting story with optimism at its heart.
Truly Madly Guilty is published by Penguin. Liane Moriarty has written eight novels. Her New York Times best seller Big Little Lies, was adapted into a popular television series. As Nicola Berry she also writes for younger readers.