When it comes to her characters, Liane Moriarty is a sneaky writer. In Truly, Madly, Guilty, the latest addition to her growing library of novels, her stars are so ordinary you almost don't notice them becoming fixtures in your life. Ordinary isn't to be confused with bland, though. They all have enough neuroses, drama and humour to keep them sparking, it's just that their suburban worries and spats are so recognisable that they become people you feel you know almost instantly. Moriarty's greatest skill has always been her ability to transfer her obvious hours of people-watching and listening to how we speak into fully formed but fictional people. Here she does much the same.
Truly, Madly, Guilty is a tricky story to discuss while avoiding giving spoilers. Much of what makes it work comes down to the reveals that pop up along the way. We're repaid for our time investment in nuggets of vital information on the six primary characters and their extended families. Each of which is a new stroke of paint for the bigger picture. One event in particular keeps prodding readers in the ribs. The barbecue. The social event that nobody really wanted to go to and that everyone really wishes they'd said no to.
In attendance are cellist Clementine and her husband Sam, along with their two young daughters. Clementine is building up to a big audition that would see her returning to orchestra work, while Sam just hopes that nobody notices he's blagging his way through each day as a marketing executive. They're joined by her lifelong if forced friend Erika, and her husband Oliver. They are as neat, controlled and measured as you'd expect a couple of mid-career accountants to be. They're everything their friends aren't and they need something from them. The trigger that unwittingly turns carefully planned afternoon tea into meat, champagne and disaster are Vid and Tiffany, Erika and Oliver's ostentatious neighbours. Vid is something of a Tony Soprano with money to burn, but with a sometimes suspiciously familiar persona. While Tiffany oozes the stunning yet effortless sexual charge that draws people to her without having to try. Even scratching her neck makes eyes fix on her every movement. Their too-young-to-be-this-sad daughter, Dakota, suddenly seems to belong to neither of them.
The event that transforms social awkwardness, clock-watching and tipsiness into a day that alters all their lives can't be revealed. It's the crux of the story. But it's what happens to them as friends, husbands, wives and parents before, during and after that awfulness that makes up the bulk of the book. As Moriarty so regularly employs, there's a huge amount of time-hopping. We move around in time and switch protagonists with each chapter to get the full impact of how their personalities fluctuate. In the past that's taken concentration to remember who you're with and where. In Truly, Madly, Guilty though, there was no confusion as to whose minds were inside or at which moment in time we'd landed. It says something about her growth as an author that this book jumps around so much and yet flows so coherently. It moves through your head like a deftly scripted TV series. She makes the visuals easy.
The only real problem with this seventh book was that at key moments it felt as if something was being held back. I wanted to push the boundaries just a touch further to see what would happen. As if I wanted a hint more seasoning. Every so often it seemed as if there was an early-evening filter on what she wanted her characters to say and do. This may simply be because its predecessor, Big Little Lies (formerly Little Lies), had more dramatic tension and gasp moments than Truly, Madly, Guilty has. It was certainly more emotionally gripping than anything else Moriarty has written. But actually, this newest book is far more in keeping with her earlier novels. It has airiness and cheekiness, while still placing the characters in relatable and serious situations that don't feel overly fluffy.
If you're a fan of Liane Moriarty, you'll undoubtedly love Truly, Madly, Guilty. It's a capsule of modern life built around a She covers all her favourite topics - the often unspoken intricacies of marriage and relationships, family, friendship, sex, parenting, secrets and the unrelenting rules that dictate everyday life on the outskirts of Sydney. It's funny, tender, sad and beautifully observed. Is it her absolute best in terms of drama? No, that title firmly stays with Big Little Lies and it's where you should start for a gateway into her world. But the fact that days after finishing it I've still got a strong urge to text Erika and Clementine to see how they're doing makes it a story that gets under your skin without you even noticing. Liane Moriarty isn't just sneaky, she's a very clever storyteller.
Truly, Madly, Guilty is available now in all formats from here.