Tag Archives: Sydney

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

When my book club was looking for some lighter fare to read I suggested Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty since I have enjoyed her other novels, and then when the regular study leader could not attend, I volunteered to facilitate. Since I was leading the book discussion, I took a more indepth approach to this novel, both reading the book and listening to the audiotape expertly narrated by Christine Lee. (Yes, some might argue the subject of this particular title isn’t actually in the “fluffy” category, but please note that we had been reading a series of books dealing with subjects such as the Holocaust, the War in Sarajevo, plus the Shakespearean Tragedy MacBeth.)

While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the overall reaction was mixed which was also reflected in the numerous reviews I found on Goodreads. Perhaps I can’t change anyone’s mind as to the worthiness of this title, but I can attempt to give everyone an appreciation of Moriarty’s skill in developing the plot.

I presented this as a circular story where the reader is fed bits of information alternating between the past, present, and future in order to develop a complete understanding of the fateful incident at the barbecue. Even better was the suggestion of one of the book club members who called it a mosaic, or a puzzle which we put together as the story progresses, not seeing the entire picture until the very end. Either way, it took a lot of skill to pull it off, with every segment having an underlying meaning as it connected to the whole.

There are two components to the book, a “big” reveal and a series of smaller reveals. Many readers felt the build up to the incident at the barbecue which was not divulged until 60% through the book, was anticlimactic, as if disappointed that the event wasn’t even more tragic. However, it’s those small secrets which truly make this an excellent read. Moriarty’s real genius is the way she develops her characters. As their foibles are disclosed, we get to know them intimately so they become alive in our minds, especially since each of the characters gets to “speak” making the reader aware of their personal thoughts and motivations.

Like in real life, the relationships are complicated. Erica and Clementine’s close friendship involves mixed feelings of resentment and jealousy, but also an intimacy only found between people who have grown up together since childhood. While the marriage between Erica and Oliver is one between two soulmates, Clementine and Sam’s witty banter indicates a love in spite of their frequent spats, often involving their two young children Holly and Ruby. Add in some flashy, gregarious neighbors along with a grumpy old man who finds fault with life itself, plus some “interesting” parent(s), and you have 410 pages or 13 hours of reading pleasure.

Guilt is the theme, as each of the “cast” members has to deal with both the repercussions from the barbecue as well as the angst found in everyday life, while the resolutions from that fateful day changes the dynamics of the couples, leaning towards a promise of healthier future relationships.

With the successful mini series based on Moriarty’s book Big Little Lies being optioned for a second season, keep your eyes on the look out for Truly Madly Guilty to hit the big or small screen as well, especially since Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman have purchased the film rights. One wonders if they will once again change the setting from Australia to California.

Four stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

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In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

In a Sunburned Country is the second book I’ve read by Bill Bryson, the first being A Walk in the Woods. Recently A Walk in the Woods was made into a motion picture starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. One review I read complained that there was really no plot and that nothing much happened. I laughed. Yes, this observation is true, yet the reviewer just didnt get the point of Bryson’s tale. His books are basically travelogues told with an amazing sense of humor and a talent for word play which captivates the reader. Honestly, I had no interest in walking the Appalachian Trail, yet Bryson had a way of keeping my attention despite my reticence about the topic.

It’s the same with the book In a Sunburned Country which describes Bryson’s travels through Australia. Americans tend to have a vague knowledge about this country/continent and might even be able to name a few cities and states, but besides a restaurant called The Outback, a vague recollection of the words to Waltzing Matilda, a fading memory of a movie character called Crocodile Dundee, and a reminder of the tragic death by stingray of The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin (while watching his daughter, Bindi, compete on Dancing With the Stars), Australia is simply a continent on the other side of the world where summer is winter and vice versa. Yes, we did watch the summer Olympics in Sydney (and we do recognize the famous Opera House) and we have heard of the Great Barrier Reef, and we know they have aborigines living in the wilderness, but do we really need to know much else?

Actually, there are a lot of neat facts about Australia which Bryson, in his witty way, is ready to impart to the reader as he describes his travels exploring the “high” points of this country. We go from Sydney to Canberra to Melbourne to Adelaide to Alice Springs to Perth and numerous points in-between meeting all sorts of interesting characters and vicariously viewing the sights within this largely unsettled nation. Bryson, as part of his adventure, reads as many books about Australia that he can find reflected by a listing of over 60 resources. He then shares some of the highlights, especially as they relate to the landmarks he visits.

The takeaway is that Australia is “packed with unappreciated wonders”, some known and many others yet to be discovered whether wildlife or foliage. Australia has a wealth of minerals, numerous one of a kind creatures including the well-known marsupials, and a dearth of plant life either unique to this continent, or varieties which are extinct throughout the rest of the world. With a limited population, there are wide areas, especially in the Outback, which have remained unexplored. This means that there is plant life and maybe even animals which have never been identified, as well as other valuable resources. It’s also probably the most dangerous place on the planet from deadly riptides to poisonous fish to hidden crocodiles to venomous snakes to cute animals with razor sharp claws which the Australians all seem to take in stride, including the death of their own Prime Minister, Howard Holt, who disappeared while swimming (back in 1967) and was presumed drowned.

Australia is an empty country with an average of 6 people per square mile versus a world average of 117 (with the US average of 76) keeping in mind the 2000 publication date of this book. Since most Australians are clustered along the coast with 86% living in urban areas, it is easy to understand why the majority of the unforgiving land has been unexplored. Bryson takes us along to numerous sights, many often lacking eager crowds of tourists, pointing out interesting facts such as the encroachment of transplanted plants (the blackberry bush and prickly pears) and animals (camels, rabbits, foxes, and even the common cat) which have threatened the existence of indigenous species. This includes the aborigines who while living in poverty with limited access to education and health care have a life expectancy as low as age forty seven.

So, if you are low on funds and don’t want to literally travel to the ends of the earth (or even farther depending upon your starting point), then pick up a copy of this book for a vicarious visit to this exotic land. All of the sightseeing without the inherent danger and a few yucks along the way. Four stars.