Pirriwee Public School Meets Wisteria Lane
I’m not sure how I found Big Little Lies (maybe it was through Amazon? maybe it was a recommendation?), but I gotta tell you that I’ve still got mixed feelings about the book even though I finished it last week. It was uniquely written. It was entertaining. It was masterfully told. So why am I having trouble settling down with how I feel about it? Maybe I should explain…
Like I said, I’m not sure how I ended up buying the book, but when I did I was aware that it was released last year and that it had nearly 9,000 reviews (holy cow!). So I did the usual thing when I discovered it: checked out the cover (loved it); checked out the title (found it engaging); and read the first couple of pages (not quite what typically grabs me but it felt like something was there so I went with it). So, here the book earned points.
From the start you’re aware that there is an alleged murder and that a detective is trying to figure out the alleged whodunnit. But here’s the thing. Big Little Lies isn’t a murder mystery (at least not in the traditional sense). So even though there are hints of police procedural in the story, it’s nothing like that genre. Not even close. For this, the book earned more points. I’m not a procedural fan, for the most part.
What is obvious is that this novel isn’t going to unfold in a typical way. It uniquely weaves in snippets of witness accounts about the murder that start out very benignly but that, over time, weave together with the story so that the big picture finally comes into view. By the time you reach the climax, all the cylinders are firing. Everything’s coming together. And you can’t help but want to keep turning pages to find out what the heck happened. Again, more points.
BUT, for me, the book read a like a weeknight soap opera a la Desperate Housewives, (prompting the review’s tagline). And this is where it lost points and this is why I’m having trouble rating it. And this is also where I realized I should have done a little more upfront homework and read the book reviews more closely before I dug in, because they hinted at what I generally don’t read…
Big Little Lies is very character driven, which isn’t a bad thing. I’ve read novels that are more character driven than plot driven. But I have trouble connecting with heavy character thoughts, and heavy character action, and heavy character interaction. Yes, it was like reading what happens to people in real life, but it wasn’t enough to keep me engaged from beginning to end. Yes, it was masterfully told. And yes, I knew I was in a professional’s hands, and that it was penned by someone experienced with writing and story and craft. But other than the heavy character-driven storyline, it also took a while for the story’s engine to really get going. While it was fun to watch the different character viewpoints work out issues related to marriage and divorce, kindergarten bullying and other bigger and scarier things, and then ultimately identify whether or not someone was murdered, I often felt like I was stuck in second gear for the first half of the book. If it wasn’t for the investigative snippets, and the chapter heading hints that brought your attention to an impending “whodunit”, I couldn’t honestly say the book held any real suspense.
So maybe that’s why I’m having issues? I’m a suspense reader and had the expectation that this would read more like true suspense? When it actually fell under a genre known as “domestic” novels?
Hmm. I may be onto something here.
I’m not against domestic novels, by the way. I just prefer them with the snap and zing I associate with domestic “suspense”.
Aha! I think I have my rating.
In the end, Big Little Lies was entertaining and solidly written, and I can honestly see why it gathered so much attention (and still does). As for the rating? I think I’ll settle on giving it 4 out of 5 stars. It’s definitely above average, but not quite what I hoped for. For that reason, and that reason alone, it loses the extra star.
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