I've become hooked on the HBO limited television series Big Little Lies. It's based on Liane Moriarty's 2014 novel of the same name. After watching the first episode in February, I was intrigued in this murder mystery and downloaded the audio book. I'm about halfway through the book, but have decided to put it on hold until I've watched all the episodes. Big Little Lies is also a Wench favorite and made the cut as one of the Top 10 Reads 2016.
One notable change from the novel to the show is the setting, which moves from Australia to Monterey, California. The scenic beauty of the California coastline features lots of sun and sand, and many of the characters live in houses with huge windows and stunning ocean views. There is a case to be made for thinking the show is implying the inhabitants live in glass houses. Indeed, there is a lot of judging going on in Monterey.
The audio book features the excellent narration of Australian Caroline Lee. The HBO show has a stellar cast including Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Scott, James Tupper, Zoë Kravitz, and Laura Dern. Witherspoon and Kidman also serve as co-producers.
Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) is the mother of two. Her youngest daughter, Chloe, is in the first grade. She is the wife of Ed (Adam Scott) and the ex-wife of Nathan (James Tupper), the father of her older daughter, Abigail. Madeline feels a great deal of resentment towards Nathan, who left her to raise Abigail alone many years before. Described as “the girliest girl you've ever seen," Madeline is plucky, bubbly, and is unafraid of ruffling a few feathers. She is a steadfast friend, and someone you don't want to cross.
Celeste (Nicole Kidman) is the mother of twin boys, Josh and Max, who are classmates of Chloe. Her husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), is a very wealthy and successful businessman. Celeste once practised law, but has put her career on hold to raise her family. Beautiful and rich, Celeste and Perry appear to have the perfect life.
Jane (Shailene Woodley) has recently moved to town and is the single mother of Ziggy, who is also in the first grade. Jane and Ziggy have moved to Monterey to make a fresh start in a new town. One of the first people she meets is Madeline, and she, Jane and Celeste quickly become good friends. Gradually, Jane reveals her sad story.
Renata (Laura Dern) is a powerful and career-driven woman. She is the leader of “The Blonde Bobs” a group of catty mothers who are always at the center of schoolyard politics. Her daughter, Amabella, is a school mate of the other children. When she becomes the victim of a bully on the first day of school, she points her finger at Ziggy as her attacker, but is she telling the truth?
Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) is married to Madeline's ex-husband, Nathan, and their daughter, Skye, is the same age as the other children. In the novel, Madeline says Bonnie is “impossible to hate.” She's a laid back and gorgeous yoga instructor and becomes a mentor to Abigail, who greatly admires her.
Being a big fan of mystery novels, I've become captivated by Big Little Lies. There are many questions that need to be answered:
- Who is the school bully?
- Who is the victim?
- Who is the killer?
If you can believe it, I've watched most of the episodes and still have no idea. I can try to guess, but I might be way off. There are many red herrings throughout the story and many possible scenarios. That's what makes it so delicious. The narrative moves back and forth in time and only adds to the suspense.
The finale will have aired by the time this post is published. Stay tuned below for my thoughts about the big reveal(s)....... (Warning: There will be spoilers)
Well. I needed a couple of days to process the finale.
I loved it! A finale that lives up to the hype is a rare and wonderful thing.
Even if only for the promise of the school fundraiser featuring the characters dressed up as Elvis and Audrey Hepburn, I would have looked forward to the episode. There were several excellent karaoke performances by Bonnie, Ed and Nathan, however, the ladies' costumes were the main draw of the evening.
All season long, the show jumped back and forth in time, from the first day of school to after the fundraiser, the night of the mysterious death of one of the main characters. The other parents in attendance frequently appeared on screen during their police interviews. A Greek chorus of sorts, where they had free reign to gossip and back stab. There was no clue, however, who the attacker and victim were. None of the main characters were shown in the police interviews, so all were potential victims or suspects.
Madeline has a
lot of anger and resentment towards her ex-husband, Nathan, and
jealousy towards his new wife, Bonnie. Bonnie has the version of
Nathan she wanted years before. She constantly complains to Ed about
Nathan: “He got it all. He won.” Recognizing Jane's
vulnerability, she takes the younger woman under her wing. When
Renata goes on the offensive, Madeline fights back. When Ziggy is
excluded from Amabella's birthday party, Madeline invites the other
children to Disney's Stars on Ice as payback. Madeline is also racked
with guilt over an affair she had with Joseph, the director of her
play. On the night of the fundraiser, drunken and remorseful, she
flees outside while Ed is declaring his love for her, crooning Elvis's Wonder of You. Jane follows her to make sure she's okay.
|Madeline - Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's|
|Ed - Elvis Presley, Blue Hawaii|
|Jane - Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's|
|Celeste - Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's|
|Perry - Elvis Presley, 1968 TV Special|
|Renata - Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady|
|Nathan - Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock|
|Bonnie - Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady|
MYSTERY 1 SOLVED
We learned early on in the episode that one of the twins, Max, was in fact the schoolyard bully. As much as Celeste and Perry wanted to believe their sons were in the dark about the violence in their marriage, it became readily apparent that they were quite aware of what was happening. Max was sadly projecting what he had learned from his father. Once Celeste found out the truth and confronted Max, she simply asked him to tell her the truth, without judging or threat of punishment. She embraced him and said, “We all do bad things sometimes.” For a six-year old, there is time to change, for a grown man, none at all. I can guess that the boys and Celeste have many sessions with her therapist in their futures.
In the first episode, when Amabella is asked to point out the child who hurt her, I noticed that one of the twins was standing near Ziggy. In that moment, I suspected one of the twins was involved, and Ziggy was the innocent bystander.
MYSTERY 2 SOLVED
After Perry's and Celeste's fight, Perry ended up dead at the bottom of the stairs. A very skeptical police officer isn't buying the ladies' story that he lost his balance while beating his wife and fell down the stairs. All five women tell the same story and during the finale and shown having a fun and idyllic day, frolicking on the beach with their children.
In light of Perry's violent nature, I don't think anyone would be sad that he was the victim. It was very likely that if he hadn't been killed, Celeste would have been.
MYSTERY 3 SOLVED
When she saw Celeste being viciously attacked by Perry, and the other ladies also in danger, Bonnie rushed over and shoved Perry down the stairs to his death.
I admit I didn't see that one coming. Of all the main characters, I think Bonnie would be everyone's least likely pick to be the killer. As any good murder mystery author would tell you, that what makes her precisely the perfect killer.
I am a firm believer that the book is always better. I don't think knowing the answers to these three questions has spoiled the story for me. On the contrary, it's made me hungry to know more about the characters and their motivations. In the case of Bonnie, especially, I need to know more about her and what leads a gentle, loving pacifist to kill.