Well, what a wonderful surprise this one turned out to be. Struggling to find a new audio book for my running / commute requirements I settled on Liane Moriarty's Little Lies (titled Big Little Lies elsewhere) because I couldn't find anything else, and there was just enough in synopsis to make it look worth a punt.
But this tale of parental shenanigans at Pirriwee Public, a primary school in the wealthy Sydney suburbs, surpassed all expectations and is probably the best audio experience I've had in 2015.
It's almost two books in one. For the first quarter of its 16 hours, I was raving to friends about this hilarious book full of the most acute and insightful observations of the obsessions, absurdities, jealousies and challenges of modern parenting. But then Little Lies takes the darkest of turns and sets off down a rocky path that manages to cover both domestic and bullying in a way that combines sensitivity and searing honesty without the tale ever losing its humourous edge (no mean feat - neither of these issues are laughing matters).
Little Lies opens with a death, quickly assumed to be a murder, at Pirriwee Public's fund-raising trivia night. It is also assumed that this was the result of the quiz getting out of control as over-competitive parents, fueled by alcohol, surrendered to their worst instincts.
But Moriarty cleverly withholds all the pertinent information: the name of the victim, of the assailant and the motive. Instead using the device of various parents making short, often gossipy statements, about what went on, she reveals a picture of life around Pirriwee Public and portraits of the main players on the stage.
These vignettes appear throughout the book and work almost as a chorus in a play providing a commentary to the main action. It works brilliantly on the audio version where narrator Caroline Lee uses the cadence in her voice to bring these bit part players to life. In fact the quality of the narration is outstanding throughout, and unless you can mimic an Australian accent in your head I'd suggest listening to the book rather than reading it as it helps to bring the story to life - the dialogue crackles throughout, littered with very Australian vernacular. (An added bonus for me was that I listened to Little Lies during England's victory over the Aussies in the 2015 Ashes, and in the absence of actual Australians I could gloat to those in the book. Yes, I know...)
The main thrust of the story takes the reader back to the six months before the fateful trivia night and broadly tells the tale through the eyes of three women: Madeleine, a likable and charismatic mother of three with a sharp tongue and an opinion for every occasion; Celeste, the woman with everything including a hedge fund husband, boisterous twins and the looks of a model; and Jane, a timid 24-year-old single mother who arrives in Pirriwee with son Ziggy in search of a different life.
Their story - and that of Renate, Madeleine's power businesswoman nemesis - walks through a veritable minefield of domestic and social issues from domestic violence to schoolyard bullying, from divorce to dealing with stroppy teenagers and the relatively new phenomenon of helicopter parenting.
And it's completely brilliant, really astoundingly entertaining. Moriarty cleverly builds the tension towards the fateful night, keeping the outcome a secret right until the corpse hits the deck while at the same time revealing tantalising clues. To get all this would be enough for one book, but to get a chilling and painfully raw psychological portrait of a battered wife and an imploding marriage is really something else and I found myself marveling at Moriarty's craft throughout.
So, five stars it is and on to the back catalogue...