Skip to main content

Truly Madly Guilty


Truly Madly Guilty

After releasing her breakout novel, THE HUSBAND’S SECRET, in 2013, Australian author Liane Moriarty has enjoyed international acclaim and success. With both a film and an HBO series in the works, Moriarty is back with TRULY MADLY GUILTY, an unflinching look at the ordinary lives of three couples and the day that changes their lives forever.

At the center of the book are friends Erika and Clementine. Erika is organized to a fault and constantly feels the need to point out the areas in which she feels Clementine is lacking --- especially when it comes to parenting her two children. Her marriage to Oliver is perhaps her most endearing quality, though both bear psychological wounds from their families. Clementine, meanwhile, is a gifted but rather aloof cellist who is happily married and frantically raising two young girls with her charming, if perhaps a bit feckless, husband, Sam. Although the women have been best friends since childhood, it is quickly apparent that their relationship is marred by jealousy, resentment and mismatched personalities. Still, the two get along well enough and have never squabbled over anything worth throwing away a lifelong friendship.

"[Moriarty's] talent for character development and pacing is truly remarkable, as is her ability to inject even the minutest scene with tension and drama."

The narrative in TRULY MADLY GUILTY jumps between two timelines: one the morning of a barbecue a few months earlier, and the other in present day. The dissonance between the timelines indicates that something truly terrible occurred at the barbecue, but, as no major players are missing, it is not easy to figure out what. Still, the effects have not only turned the relationships between the couples sour, they have created an alarming distance between Clementine and Sam, one of the happier couples in the book. Moriarty’s ability to begin the story with such tension speaks volumes for her talent and really grips the reader from the first page. Characters Vid and Tiffany are also introduced as Erika and Oliver’s neighbors and the hosts of the infamous barbecue. Vid is boisterous, charming and possibly the most eager host in the history of literature, and his bombshell wife, Tiffany, provides a satisfying balance to his over-the-top persona. Although they are less affected by the past, their daughter, Dakota, has become exceedingly quiet and withdrawn. Throughout each character’s internal monologues, the phrase “What if we’d never gone?” is repeated again and again.

In the alternate timeline, we watch as Erika and Oliver invite Clementine and her family over for tea on the day of the barbecue. They have a big proposal for Clementine, and it is important for them that the day goes well. Their plans, however, are upended when Vid invites them all over for a spur-of-the-moment barbecue. Although each couple is initially confused by the change of plans, Erika and Clementine seem to welcome the distraction from their increasingly awkward and strained friendship. As the barbecue begins and we watch the couples interact, it seems that nothing could go wrong, especially in Vid and Tiffany’s Versailles-inspired backyard. Of course, the alternating chapters set in the present indicate that this is far from the case.

In the present, meanwhile, Clementine and Erika attempt to rebuild their friendship, even as their husbands are struggling with their own issues. Moriarty is at her height here, as she carefully tracks each woman’s idea of friendship and how it morphs over time. She takes great care in writing her characters and successfully avoids boring tropes and overused clichés. At the same time, she manages to balance two storylines while keeping the suspense tangible throughout. Although TRULY MADLY GUILTY is not exactly a thriller, Moriarty’s attention to detail and careful pacing make it just as suspenseful as one.

As the storylines begin to converge, we see the true nature of each character --- from their insecurities and conceits to their family histories and current states. None are particularly awful or evil, but I cannot honestly admit to liking any of them, except perhaps Oliver, Erika’s husband. As Moriarty keeps the tension taut, the reader edges closer and closer to finding out what truly happened at the barbecue. Throughout it all, she takes a keen, careful look at her characters and their intentions, proving that there is no ordinary human existence, though there are many extraordinary ones. Her talent for character development and pacing is truly remarkable, as is her ability to inject even the minutest scene with tension and drama.

I won’t spoil the mystery of the barbecue for future readers, but I must say that I found the climax a bit underwhelming. This is not to say that it was not tragic or shocking, but I believe Moriarty sets us up for a bit too much --- or perhaps it is my overactive imagination speaking. I must admit now that this is my first Moriarty book, so I cannot compare it to her others, but I have heard truly wonderful things about her previous works and am eager to give one a try. The writing of TRULY MADLY GUILTY was phenomenal, and I loved Moriarty’s ability to totally encapsulate a friendship as complicated as Erika and Clementine’s. I just wish that the big reveal had been a bit more satisfying.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on July 29, 2016

Truly Madly Guilty
by Liane Moriarty

  • Publication Date: July 25, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250069807
  • ISBN-13: 9781250069801