What does this paperback novel have in common with a bottle of Chardonnay Pinto Noir Cuvee from the Adelaide Hills, you might ask?
Well, I discovered them both over Christmas and found them to be strangely similar after a few days' living with them.
Just as the fizz didn't cost me too much, wasn't an overly complex drop but went down a treat at the end of the day, Liane Moriarty's novel didn't make me work too hard but kept me delightfully pre-occupied during quiet moments over the festive season. If I ever appeared on BBC Radio 4's program A Good Read, this is the book I'd choose. It's not literary fiction but I found myself comparing it to the wine: great mouthfeel, lovely flavours, just the right amount of fizz and didn't give me a hangover.
It's a pleasing story about a suburban woman. There's complexity in the tale but an accessibility too. As a writer, you think, I could have written this! So great! Writing's easy! (It's not, and you couldn't.)
The book is written very deftly, with complete assurance in every component part. Characters are solid. There's a consistency in the way they think, particularly Ellen the hypnotist. Patrick's her fiance's thinking changes and you can see it happening, and so does Saskia's, who makes the most pronounced journey. Whatever their arc, it's all accomplished clearly and believably.
The plotting develops if not pacily - this isn't a thriller - then with a pleasing steadiness. I hate to feel manipulated by a narrative. I'm not particularly into suspense. It's a construct. I don't like to be led along by the nose so that I'm desperate to find out whodunnit or whadhappened. I just like a great story well told, whether it's literary fiction or something more simply diverting. There's no manipulation here, just a measured and assured building of events to a satisfying climax, and then a denoument.
The book is told from two points of view, with two character's voices. The two are very distinct, and as a device it's entirely successful. And there's just enough internal dialogue. They don't go on and on interminably: they make their point succinctly, and the story moves on. As a result it's a thickish book but not an overworked doorstopper that you wish you'd downloaded in e-form, and it's exactly the right length.
The writing style is deceptively simple. It's well told and easily absorbable. There are no particularly exceptional descriptive passages. The trick here is that it's an insight into another world. It's not pretendign to be Tim Winton, that other deceptively simple writer, and talking about surfing, breathing, life and death in big, broad, expansive gestures. It's a story about ordinary people told with complete assurance to keep you occupied.
No wonder this woman's books sell.
One thing I especially liked about it is that it's strangely comforting in tiny moments, like in the central message that love isn't black and white, it's a grey and shifting thing. That's very different from the sickly sweet and idealist Walt Disney version of things that we're probably all a bit sick of after nearly a bloody century.
And I'd wager that a thousand and one readers silently cheered at the remarks various characters made about Ellen's c-section, and her momentary regret not to have had a natural birth. 'Labour doesn't make you a mother, darling,' says one character. There would be many women out there who need to hear that message, with all the pressure on us to get everything about pregnancy, birth and parenting perfect. Seeing those conversations on the page in fleeting, distilled but punchy comments that dispel a few myths for the benefit of us all, I take my hat off to Ms Moriarty. Good on you.
It's a strange and frequently quoted fact that Liane Moriarty is Australia's least known best-selling author. Her books are sold in countries all over the world. I can't help wondering why she's not a household name. I thougtht this was a wonderful read, it kept me occupied, it didn't upset me and make me feel I had to go and embrace my children while they were sleeping - (I'd had to stop reading All the Light We Cannot See because I just couldn't face reliving the Second World War in moment-by-moment detail over Christmas) - and it was inspiring for me as a writer because you can actually see yourself writing something like this if you are lucky enough to be great at plotting, character construction, have a broad imagination and a deft turn of phrase. So probably not, then.
A great read, happily matched by my other great find over Christmas, a great quaff. I'm off to order the others from the library. Cheers all!