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Big Little Lies

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Do you think Perry was indeed genuinely sorry for his abuse of Celeste after the fact? Did he truly believe he’d never do it again? In the car before the trivia night, he swears he’ll get help and says he even got a referral to a psychiatrist on his own. Do you believe him? Do you think it’s possible that, had he lived, he could have gotten help and truly changed? Have you known anyone who was abused by their spouse? Could you see the signs? If not, were you upset with yourself for not noticing, as Madeleine was?

At the beginning of the novel, Madeline is enraged over Ziggy not being invited to Amabella’s birthday party. Why do you think Madeline becomes so angry about such a seemingly small injustice? Do you think Madeline is the kind of person who just looks for a fight, or do you think she was justified in feeling so upset? And do you think that by tackling both ends of the spectrum —from schoolyard bullying and parents behaving badly in the playground to displays of domestic violence in all its incarnations—that the author is trying to say something about the bullying that happens out in the open every day?

At one point in the book, Susi says that, in Australia, one woman dies every week because of domestic violence. In the United States, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day. Every nine seconds in the United States a woman is assaulted or beaten. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than that caused by car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Are you surprised by these statistics? Why or why not? Clearly, the author chose Celeste—the picture-perfect mom and/ wife as well as an educated lawyer—to be the victim of domestic violence in order to make a point. Do you think it’s plausible that someone like her would fall victim to abuse such as this?

Did you think Ziggy was the bully? Did you think he was being bullied? Did you suspect it was really Max?

There is a lot of discussion about women and their looks. On the beach Jane’s mom shows that she has rather poor body image. Jane observes that women over 40 are constantly talking about their age. And Madeline says, “She didn’t want to admit, even to herself, just how much the aging of her face really did genuinely depress her. She wanted to be above such superficial concerns. She wanted to be depressed about the state of the world….” [p. 82] Do you think this obsession with looks is specific to women, particularly women of a certain age? Why or why not?

Madeline comments that “there were so many levels of evil in the world.” [p. 433] Discuss the implications of this statement in light of the novel and the novel’s different storylines.

The topic of “helicopter parenting” was mentioned only once, by Miss Barnes when speaking with the interviewer. If you are a parent, you are probably familiar with this term and its place in the current hot-button topic of parenting. In your opinion, are parents “obsessed,” to use Miss Barnes’ word - hovering like a helicopter over every aspect of their children’s life? Is this a helpful or harmful development, or a combination of both?

There are a lot of scenes in which the characters say they wish they could be violent: Jane says she wants to throw Ziggy into the wall when he has a tirade in the bathtub, that she would hit Renata if she was in front of her, and then she stops just short of kicking Harper. Do you think the author is trying to show the reader Perry’s side and have us sympathize with him? Or, rather, that feeling violent is a natural impulse but one that people learn to suppress?

Who did you suspect was the murder victim? Did it change throughout the book? If you guessed correctly, when did you begin to suspect? How did you feel when you found out who it was?

Did you suspect Tom was not, in fact, gay? Were you glad for Jane?

When Ziggy has to do his family tree, Madeline comments, “Why try to slot fractured families into neat little boxes in this day and age?” [p. 184] A lot of Madeline’s storyline is about the complications that arise from the merging of new modern families. What kind of problems exist among families and extended families now that didn’t when you were a child?

Were you surprised when the culprit was revealed? Did she get a fair sentence, in your opinion?

When Jane recounts what happened the night she got pregnant, she focuses on what the man said rather than on what he did. Why does Jane feel more violated by two words – fat and ugly—than by the actual assault? Jane seems to think the answer is “Because we live in a beauty-obsessed society where the most important thing a woman can do is make herself attractive to men.” [p. 196] Do you agree?

Was it fair of Madeleine to ask Ed to lie about what he saw (or didn’t see) that night on the balcony? What would you have done in his position? Of Ed in this situation, who did not want to lie, Madeleine thinks, “Of course he was right, he was always right, but sometimes doing the wrong thing is also right” (p. 430). Do you believe this? He later told Madeleine that he would have lied, but she doesn’t believe him. Do you believe him?

The power of secrets is a theme throughout the novel. Jane remembers, “She hadn’t told anyone. She’d swallowed it whole and pretended it meant nothing, and therefore it had come to mean everything.” [p. 220] Do you think this is a universal truth, that the more you keep something secret, the more power it takes on?

What do you think about Nathan moving into Madeleine’s community, particularly since they have children the same age and in the same school? Madeleine says there should be laws against it. What do you think? Do sympathize with Madeleine in this?

Gwen, the babysitter, seems to be the only one to suspect what is going on with Celeste and Perry. Celeste then realizes she’s never heard Gwen talk about a husband or a partner. Do you think the author intended to intimate that perhaps Gwen had had an abusive husband or partner and that she left him? And in light of what happens at the end with Bonnie, do you think it’s only people who have personally experienced abuse who pick up on the signs?

Madeleine is admittedly bitter about Nathan’s desertion of her and newborn Abigail 14 years ago, and understandably annoyed that now Abigail is choosing him and his new wife over her. Do you have any experience, direct or indirect, with co-parenting? Does this scenario and Madeleine’s feelings strike a chord with you?

At one point Jane thinks she and Ziggy will have to leave Pirriwee because “rich, beautiful people weren’t asked to leave anywhere.” [p. 362] Do you think different rules apply to rich people? Do you think being rich allowed Perry to get away with things longer than would have been likely if he hadn’t had money?

Abigail becomes passionate about doing her part to end child marriage. She is not one of the more developed characters, but do you think she would have gone through with her “special project?” Do you think it was a valid or effective way to make a point?

Bonnie says, “We see. We fucking see!” [p. 421] Were you surprised to learn about Bonnie’s history? Were you surprised to discover that all along Max had been seeing what Perry was doing to Celeste?

Madeleine thinks “Those [child brides] were completely real to Abigail, and of course, they were real, there was real pain the world, right this very moment people were suffering unimaginable atrocities and you couldn’t close your heart completely, but you couldn’t leave it wide open either, because otherwise how could you possibly live your life, when through pure, random luck you got to live in paradise? You had to register the existence of evil, do the little you could, and then close your mind and think about new shoes” (p. 353). Have you felt this tension, the tension between wanting to be aware of the evil in the world (and care about it, do something about it) and yet knowing that if you were acutely aware all the time, it would cripple you? What do you think about this comment? What does “the little you could” mean to you?

What did you make of the interview snippets to the reporter? Do you think the author used them almost like a Greek chorus to make a point?

Did you ever suspect Saxon Banks was Perry? When did you begin to suspect?

Madeline muses, “Maybe it was actually an unspoken instant agreement between four women on the balcony: No woman should pay for the accidental death of that particular man. Maybe it was an involuntary, atavistic response to thousands of years of violence against women. Maybe it was for every rape, every brutal backhanded slap, every other Perry that had come before this one.” [p. 430] And then Madeline thinks, “Sometimes doing the wrong thing was also right.” Do you agree with this statement? Do you agree with what the women decided to do? Do you think there’s a stronger bond between women than there is between men? Were you surprised that women who ostensibly didn’t like one another—Madeline and Bonnie, Madeline and Renata—ended up coming together to help one another out?