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Trivia Night at Pirriwee Public Primary School in New South Wales doesn’t turn out quite as planned. We learn in Chapter 1 that the evening ends with a murder, but we don’t know the victim, the murderer or the motive. We are then whisked back six months to meet the various characters and follow the events leading up to the murder. It all begins on the day the mothers bring their five-year-olds along to the Kindergarten ‘Let’s Get Ready’ Orientation Day…
This is such a clever book. The mothers are brilliantly observed, completely believable – people most of us have met. They each have quirks and flaws, they can be annoying, but they’re also intensely likeable – you can’t help but feel that it would be so much fun to spend time with them. And this despite the fact that they are ‘helicopter’ parents – obsessed with every aspect of their little dears’ lives. So when an accusation is made that one child has bullied another, the mothers are much more upset about the whole thing than the children seem to be. There is so much humour in the book that it’s only gradually the darker underlying subjects begin to show through. Moriarty avoids the temptation to over-dramatise so that, even as we learn of the secrets some of the women are hiding, the characters remain totally credible. And as the book progresses, the author keeps a perfect balance between the serious side of the story and the humour – like in real life, she allows her characters to have both happy and sad times, rather than burying them under a blanket of angst. Oh, and she writes in the third person past tense – I think I love her!!
She’d once been appalled to hear of women claiming PMT as a defence for murder. Now she understood. She could happily murder someone today! In fact, she felt like there should be some sort of recognition for her remarkable strength of character that she didn’t.
As the book starts, Madeline has just turned forty. On her second marriage, she’s far older than most of the other mothers and takes on a sort of maternal role with them too. She’s loud, extrovert and feisty – but she’s also kind, generous and understanding. She may be very happily married now, but that doesn’t stop her being very bitter (and extremely funny) about her first husband, Patrick, who deserted her not long after the birth of her eldest daughter. And now he’s moved to Pirriwee with his wife Bonnie and new daughter – Madeline is less than thrilled. On the surface, Celeste has an ideal life – stunningly beautiful, she is the mother of a set of agreeably naughty twin boys, and the wife of rich and handsome Perry. But it’s soon obvious that the marriage is not as golden as it appears. The third of the main characters is Jane, a young single mother new in town, whose son is the child accused of bullying. Upset by this, Jane is taken under the wing of an outraged Madeline and so begins a war between Madeline’s crowd and the Blonde Bobs – the yummy-mummies who think they rule the school. But what starts as something reasonably light-hearted will soon begin to spiral out of control…
Perhaps Madeline should take up yoga so she and [her daughter] Alice would have something in common? But every time she tried yoga she found herself silently chanting her own mantra: I’m so boooored, I’m so boooored.
I loved this book. The characterisation is great, as is the writing. These women may have problems in their lives, but ultimately they’re survivors, with a strength that comes from their friendships and mutual support. The book reminded me of some of the great female ensemble films of the past – Fried Green Tomatoes, Steel Magnolias or even 9 to 5. There’s a lovely device where comments made by some of the uninvolved mothers during police interviews after the murder give a kind of running commentary on how the rest of the community viewed the growing feud. The ending managed that difficult feat of being both surprising and yet entirely consistent with what had gone before. This will undoubtedly be one of my favourite books of the year – highly recommended.
Thanks again to Cleo from Cleopatra Loves Books, whose excellent review persuaded me to read this book.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Penguin Books UK.