Truly, Madly Guilty is the seventh novel by popular Australian author, Liane Moriarty. It was just a BBQ on an ordinary Sunday: three couples and three little girls, enjoying a perfect June afternoon. Afterwards, what ran through many of their minds were the “what ifs”: what if I’d just said no, what if I hadn’t drunk the wine, what if I’d been more alert. But it was too late for that now. Blame and guilt, each one felt it: why they had behaved that way, said what they’d said, done what they’d done or not done.
Erika and Oliver had invited Clementine and Sam (and of course Holly and Ruby) for afternoon tea: they had something important to discuss. But when she ran into her neighbour Vid, Erika somehow got caught up in his zest for fun and agreed to bring her guests to a BBQ at his house. Clementine and Sam had met Vid and his gorgeous wife Tiffany once before, and they had got on well. Their daughter Dakota would love to look after the girls, sure. Vid was already planning the menu as he walked away. Oliver was annoyed at the change in plan, but they could probably confer with Clementine and Sam before they went next door.
Moriarty uses multiple narrators to tell her tale from different perspectives, and splits the narrative into two time periods, alternating the day of the BBQ with two months on. In this way, she carefully crafts her novel to build up the intrigue, not revealing exactly what happened, what has affected them so deeply, until almost two thirds in. Her characters are familiar: we have all met them on the school run, at the gym, at work, or they’re just like our own neighbours in what they say and think and do.
As indicated by the title, guilt is a major theme: guilt about having privilege, about neglecting neighbours, about a lack of vigilance. Moriarty touches on subjects both age-old and topical: PTSD, infertility, OCD, kleptomania, hoarding, alcoholism and theme park accidents. She explores the destabilising effect that a major life event can have on a marriage. And she manages to include Pole dancing, egg donation, exclusive schools and jars of chocolate-covered nuts. Fans of her work will not be disappointed: this is another brilliant Moriarty read.