Book BFFS: Big Little Lies and This Charming Man
‘Sup readers? 2017 is going to be ripe with TV adaptations; from the politically-potent The Handmaid’s Tale to The CW’s eerie take on Archie Comics in Riverdale, the small screen is brimming with the best of the best in the literary world (and yes, despite the New York Times’ recent decision to chop its graphic novel bestseller list, comics are considered literature). One such offering is Liane Moriarty’s NY Times bestseller, Big Little Lies, slated to debut on HBO on February 19th, 2017. The limited series promises a star-studded cast, dark twists and— as is the norm for HBO shows— sexy times to balance out the drama. Given how great the book was, they’d better be able to deliver.
Those who have read Big Little Lies know its cover is all fluffy chick lit, its summary is purely whodunnit, and its content is the bookish equivalent of a Sourpuss cocktail: sweet and sour with enough of a snap to make an impression. Moriarty deftly blends the airy expectations of typical chick lit with the stone-cold seriousness of an open secret that millions of people the world over face, but few can escape (if you want to read the book before watching the series, or watch the show knowing nothing, there are spoilers ahead and you should stop reading this now).
Spoilers: Weaved throughout the narrative of Big Little Lies, at first as a blink, progressing to an unflinchingly honest stare, are the truths of domestic and sexual violence, topped off by the simple (yet often discarded) message that those things can happen to anyone. A book like Big Little Lies is the perfect convergence of exactly what you’d expect and nothing you’d anticipate, one that is fiction but rooted in reality. This type of page-turner is rare, and often stands in a class of its own, unmatched by other books. Luckily for the readers in the world, there are books that can stand (or be stacked, or shelved) alongside Moriarty’s work of genius, as humorous and hopeful as they are heavy and relatable.
What you should read next:
This time, our recommendation is an oldie but a goodie. This Charming Man, the 11th fiction novel by Marian Keyes, was published in 2008, though it still resonates today. In fact, Moriarty and Keyes are similar in the way that both push deceptively light topics whilst effortlessly diving into dark territory that many would (and do, particularly if it’s written honestly) balk at. This Charming Man is told from (primarily) three viewpoints: irreverent stylist Lola, take-no-prisoners journalist Grace, and functioning alcoholic, Marnie. Each has ties to up-and-coming politician Paddy de Courcy, who oozes hypnotic charm the way a Boston cream doughnut oozes filling. But before you take a bite out of this handsome, wealthy, Irish (!) politician, look forward and back. Despite the praise of his rabidly-appreciative new fiancée Alicia, Paddy’s Photoshop-perfect exterior belies his terrible nature, the truth of which is best commented upon by the three women who know him inside and out.
How they’re similar:
Moriarty and Keyes are both gifted with unique, frank voices that reverberate in their prose; both tackle difficult issues with a deftness appreciated by readers worldwide. Big Little Lies and This Charming Man both deconstruct a larger-than-life man who is perfect only on paper. They use the viewpoints of multiple relatable-but-flawed characters (not all of them “strong,” in the way we’ve come to expect, but each fighting a hard battle nonetheless), and both expose domestic violence for what it is: indiscriminatory. It can happen to anyone, regardless of who they believe they are, and the ripple effect of that violence can spread, poisoning generations.
How they’re different:
Big Little Lies boasts a murder mystery, while This Charming Man probes (at times uncomfortably) the rawness of what happens after domestic abuse. Sometimes those who escape are still prisoners years after the fact. Moriarty juggles multiple plot points and slips them in seamlessly, from a teenager’s first taste of social fury to a kindergartener being iced out of a social life by formidable PTA parents (you know the type). They follow a similar trail, but embark upon different paths, both of which should leave the reader satisfied.
Why you should read This Charming Man:
Marian Keyes’ writing is a lot like realizing you’re in love: messy, exhilarating, poignant and hilarious. It will rocket you into the clouds and then drag you through the mud. She pulls no punches when dealing with life’s sharp turns and ugly corners. You’ll laugh, cry, and somehow manage both at the same time. One of the best things about the characters is that each has their own voice: Lola in particular has a distinctive tone that, at first is disconcerting but later becomes endearing. This Charming Man, by all accounts, shouldn’t be funny or inspire hope; but Keyes has the magic touch that turns her 704 page behemoth into something that feels perfectly-paced. It will stick with you for years after you’ve closed the back cover.
UPDATE: Added the HBO trailer for Big Little Lies.