Overall, I liked this book. It was an enjoyable listen, despite starting off a little bit slow plot wise. The book may have done too good of a job making the mothers at the school exceptionally annoying — there were times when I just wanted to turn the book off because I couldn’t listen to them anymore. It’s fitting, because it really drives home the point that these women are behaving poorly. They gossip. They cause actual problems with their immaturity. Shoot, they are behaving badly and they are supposed to be mothers! I love the concept that this happens at their kid’s school, that these are the types of people who are influencing kids. That the example they are setting for their kids is a terrible one.
The overall plot about men in this book was an interesting one, whether or not you agreed with the heavy-handed nature of the writing toward men. Each character clearly has issues with a man, it’s not just Celeste and the physical abuse. Jane had a violent and verbally abusive encounter with a man. Madeline has an ex-husband who abandoned her and their daughter. Renata’s husband cheats on her.
In all of these instances with men, they are given a free pass/no responsibility, no repercussions. There is a sense of entitlement to these male characters:
1. Nathan walks away from his family, but then he is entitled to completely start over? Madeline was there, the whole time, through the worst of it. It is easy to see where her animosity comes from.
2. Renata’s husband cheats on her. Why? Because he can. Because he is a man. Renata leaves him, but still the assumption from his point of view is why not?
3. Harper’s husband cheats on her and there are no repercussions at all. She stays with him.
4. Perry feels like he is entitled to tell Jane that she is ugly and fat. Why? Because men can do what they want. They have the power. Women are there to please men. He does not please her, so he can speak to her and do to her what he wants.
5. Perry (and Celeste, for awhile) feels like he is entitled to beat on his wife because she made mistakes. He is affluent. That makes it all okay.
Again, this is all because of an underlying, societal unspoken assumption that men will be men.
The book is interesting, I will say that.
As for production of the novel as an audiobook, the structure of the story is not well-suited for audio. In the beginning, when all the various characters are speaking to the reporter, it was very, very hard to understand what was going on with only audio to go off of. If you can just be patient with the book, it does get easier. This is a common issue with audiobooks, but this book was more problematic than most.
God, I wish I had that time back in my life = 0
Eh, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read = 1
Shrug, I mean, it was okay = 2
I enjoyed it = 3
Have your read this book? It’s pretty good = 4
Wow, you need to read this book now = 5
Big Little Lies = 3.0
Here are my answers to book club questions provided by the Penguin. Thanks Penguin for facilitating a closer look at the book!
1. At the beginning of the novel, Madeline is enraged over Ziggy not being invited to Amabella’s birthday party. Why do you think Madeline becomes so angry about such a seemingly small injustice?
Because it is not a small injustice. It is calculated. It is done by an adult. Adults know how painful it can be to for a child to be the one not invited to a party. Madeline is not only trying to save Ziggy from a lifetime of bullying, but from the wrath of parents who are acting like children. The interesting thing is, in the book, it is the children who behave the best, well, for the most part.
2. Gwen, the babysitter, seems to be the only one to suspect what is going on with Celeste and Perry. Celeste then realizes she’s never heard Gwen talk about a husband or a partner. Do you think the author intended to intimate that perhaps Gwen had had an abusive husband or partner and that she left him? And in light of what happens at the end with Bonnie, do you think it’s only people who have personally experienced abuse who pick up on the signs?
Of course she would notice, she is in the trenches. She is allowed a certain amount of access. I think it is interesting that Perry and Celeste would think that she doesn’t notice. It is hubris, that they can hide it, from her or from the kids.
I think it is giving the author too much leeway to assume that Gwen had a husband that abused her. It is interesting, even posing this question, that a woman being aware of the abuse could only be determined by the fact that a man did something to her. Men are not the end all be all reactive/proactive devices that the world and society makes them out to be. Perhaps this woman noticed it all on her own, without the influence of a man.
Therefore, as for Bonnie, no. I don’t think that only people who have been abused pick up on the signs.
3. At one point Jane thinks she and Ziggy will have to leave Pirriwee because “rich, beautiful people weren’t asked to leave anywhere.” [p. 362] Do you think different rules apply to rich people? Do you think being rich allowed Perry to get away with things longer than would have been likely if he hadn’t had money?
Of course. Rich people are always getting away with more. Also, there is an overwhelming mystique that the rich are above it all. The sad truth is anyone can be abused. Anyone can be the abuser. In a lot of ways, it goes along with the entitlement. It’s about power. Abuse is about power. Men are always given the power — through societal paradigms and physical strength. It needs to change.
4. Bonnie says, “We see. We fucking see!” [p. 421] Were you surprised to learn about Bonnie’s history? Were you surprised to discover that all along Max had been seeing what Perry was doing to Celeste?
When Bonnie says that I think she is reiterating the theme of this book. That men think they can hide what they do. That it is allowed. That people will turn a blind eye. But Bonnie declares they see. She saw as a kid. Madeline and Renata see now. Max sees. People see. However, people have to choose to do something about it. That is not always easy. Who are the cops? Men. Who are the judges? Men. Look at the spotlight done by Samantha Bee on an Idaho sheriff who thought that rape was over-reported and overexaggerated by women. Of course women would think that they have no recourse.
Of course Max saw. That is also what Bonnie is referring to. Kids see way more than they let on. People also underestimate kids.
5. What did you make of the interview snippets to the reporter? Do you think the author used them almost like a Greek chorus to make a point?
Not a Greek chorus.
I think it was a great technique to show just how ready people, women in particular, are ready to talk about someone. How insidious it can get.
6. Madeline muses, “Maybe it was actually an unspoken instant agreement between four women on the balcony: No woman should pay for the accidental death of that particular man. Maybe it was an involuntary, atavistic response to thousands of years of violence against women. Maybe it was for every rape, every brutal backhanded slap, every other Perry that had come before this one.” [p. 430] And then Madeline thinks, “ Sometimes doing the wrong thing was also right.” Do you agree with this statement? Do you agree with what the women decided to do? Do you think there’s a stronger bond between women than there is between men? Were you surprised that women who ostensibly didn’t like one another—Madeline and Bonnie, Madeline and Renata—ended up coming together to help one another out?
Everyone has or knows a Perry. I do agree with the women to keep the circumstances leading to the death a secret. It truly wasn’t anyone’s fault. Can anyone really blame the women for thinking that Bonnie wouldn’t be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law?
I do not agree that women have closer bonds than men.
It did not surprise me that the women came together over this incident.
7. At one point in the book, Susi says that, in Australia, one woman dies every week because of domestic violence. In the United States, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day. Every nine seconds in the United States a woman is assaulted or beaten. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than that caused by car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Are you surprised by these statistics? Why or why not? Clearly, the author chose Celeste—the picture-perfect mom and/ wife as well as an educated lawyer—to be the victim of domestic violence in order to make a point. Do you think it’s plausible that someone like her would fall victim to abuse such as this?
Of course. Abuse is about power. Anyone can be a victim.
8. Madeline comments that “there were so many levels of evil in the world.” [p. 433] Discuss the implications of this statement in light of the novel and the novel’s different storylines.
The overall cattiness is certainly an evil. Look at how damaging it was to Jane. To Ziggy. The way women treat other women is often deplorable. Ziggy/Max hitting another kid, absolutely could be evil, but probably not. They were 5-years old. Perry, absolutely evil. Bonnie inadvertently killing Perry could be considered evil, but it is not what she set out to do. It was an accident. It was not murder, despite the fact that killing someone could be considered evil. The slow destruction of women by certain men could be considered evil. Deserting your wife and child is evil. Yes, there are many forms of evil in the world.