Fangirl Fridays: Big Little Lies - From Book to Show

I've become hooked on the HBO limited television series Big Little Lies. It's based on Liane Moriarty's 2014 novel of the same name. After watching the first episode in February, I was intrigued in this murder mystery and downloaded the audio book. I'm about halfway through the book, but have decided to put it on hold until I've watched all the episodes. Big Little Lies is also a Wench favorite and made the cut as one of the Top 10 Reads 2016.

One notable change from the novel to the show is the setting, which moves from Australia to Monterey, California. The scenic beauty of the California coastline features lots of sun and sand, and many of the characters live in houses with huge windows and stunning ocean views. There is a case to be made for thinking the show is implying the inhabitants live in glass houses. Indeed, there is a lot of judging going on in Monterey.

The audio book features the excellent narration of Australian Caroline Lee. The HBO show has a stellar cast including Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Scott, James Tupper, Zoë Kravitz, and Laura Dern. Witherspoon and Kidman also serve as co-producers.

Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) is the mother of two. Her youngest daughter, Chloe, is in the first grade. She is the wife of Ed (Adam Scott) and the ex-wife of Nathan (James Tupper), the father of her older daughter, Abigail. Madeline feels a great deal of resentment towards Nathan, who left her to raise Abigail alone many years before. Described as “the girliest girl you've ever seen," Madeline is plucky, bubbly, and is unafraid of ruffling a few feathers. She is a steadfast friend, and someone you don't want to cross.

Celeste (Nicole Kidman) is the mother of twin boys, Josh and Max, who are classmates of Chloe. Her husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), is a very wealthy and successful businessman. Celeste once practised law, but has put her career on hold to raise her family. Beautiful and rich, Celeste and Perry appear to have the perfect life.

Jane (Shailene Woodley) has recently moved to town and is the single mother of Ziggy, who is also in the first grade. Jane and Ziggy have moved to Monterey to make a fresh start in a new town. One of the first people she meets is Madeline, and she, Jane and Celeste quickly become good friends. Gradually, Jane reveals her sad story.

Renata (Laura Dern) is a powerful and career-driven woman. She is the leader of “The Blonde Bobs” a group of catty mothers who are always at the center of schoolyard politics. Her daughter, Amabella, is a school mate of the other children. When she becomes the victim of a bully on the first day of school, she points her finger at Ziggy as her attacker, but is she telling the truth?

Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) is married to Madeline's ex-husband, Nathan, and their daughter, Skye, is the same age as the other children. In the novel, Madeline says Bonnie is “impossible to hate.” She's a laid back and gorgeous yoga instructor and becomes a mentor to Abigail, who greatly admires her.

Being a big fan of mystery novels, I've become captivated by Big Little Lies. There are many questions that need to be answered:

  1. Who is the school bully?
  2. Who is the victim?
  3. Who is the killer?

If you can believe it, I've watched most of the episodes and still have no idea. I can try to guess, but I might be way off. There are many red herrings throughout the story and many possible scenarios. That's what makes it so delicious. The narrative moves back and forth in time and only adds to the suspense.

The finale will have aired by the time this post is published. Stay tuned below for my thoughts about the big reveal(s)....... (Warning: There will be spoilers)

Well. I needed a couple of days to process the finale.

I loved it! A finale that lives up to the hype is a rare and wonderful thing.

Even if only for the promise of the school fundraiser featuring the characters dressed up as Elvis and Audrey Hepburn, I would have looked forward to the episode. There were several excellent karaoke performances by Bonnie, Ed and Nathan, however, the ladies' costumes were the main draw of the evening.

All season long, the show jumped back and forth in time, from the first day of school to after the fundraiser, the night of the mysterious death of one of the main characters. The other parents in attendance frequently appeared on screen during their police interviews. A Greek chorus of sorts, where they had free reign to gossip and back stab. There was no clue, however, who the attacker and victim were. None of the main characters were shown in the police interviews, so all were potential victims or suspects.

Madeline - Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's
Madeline has a lot of anger and resentment towards her ex-husband, Nathan, and jealousy towards his new wife, Bonnie. Bonnie has the version of Nathan she wanted years before. She constantly complains to Ed about Nathan: “He got it all. He won.” Recognizing Jane's vulnerability, she takes the younger woman under her wing. When Renata goes on the offensive, Madeline fights back. When Ziggy is excluded from Amabella's birthday party, Madeline invites the other children to Disney's Stars on Ice as payback. Madeline is also racked with guilt over an affair she had with Joseph, the director of her play. On the night of the fundraiser, drunken and remorseful, she flees outside while Ed is declaring his love for her, crooning Elvis's Wonder of You. Jane follows her to make sure she's okay.

Ed - Elvis Presley, Blue Hawaii
Ed is a very nice guy and very supportive of Madeline. She is the woman of his dreams. He suspects something went on between Madeline and Joseph. In addition, he resents how focused she is on Nathan. She doesn't seem to pay much attention to Ed, and their sex life is mostly non-existent. On the night of the fundraiser, he is ordering triples at the bar before his performance. He is very hurt when Madeline leaves the room during his performance.

Jane -  Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's
Jane came to town to make a new life for her and Ziggy. She has never dealt with the circumstances of Ziggy's birth, and accusations that he is Amabella's bully is making her wonder if violence is in his DNA. She and her son have been shunned by many of the mothers at school. Her attacker was hiding in plain sight, except she never had crossed paths with Celeste's husband before. She looked frozen in fear when she finally came face to face with Perry.

Celeste - Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's
With the encouragement of her therapist, Celeste finally decides to leave Perry. She arranges to rent an apartment and begins to furnish it for herself and the boys. She is savagely beaten the morning before the fundraiser, and sadly the boys hear her cries through the vents while they are playing video games. That evening, Celeste looks regal in her Audrey Hepburn costume and spends a few minutes with the boys while waiting for Perry to finish getting ready. He picks up a message from the real estate agent about the new apartment, and they have an argument on the way to the fundraiser.

Perry - Elvis Presley, 1968 TV Special
Perry has a very definite on/off switch. He can change from a funny, loving husband and father to a violent and cruel wife beater in a heartbeat. It can be just a facial expression or one wrong word. The revelation that Perry was Jane's attacker really took me by surprise. His biggest fear is losing Celeste, and he discovers that she is on the verge of leaving him. He stalks her at the fundraiser and confronts her in front of her friends. After he sees recognition in Jane's eyes, he realizes he's about to lose everything and starts swinging his fists. The ladies try to intervene and stop the beating, but only put themselves in harm's way.

Renata - Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady
Renata believes the other mothers resent her for being both a successful businesswoman and mother. Actually, the cause of Renata's problems stem from her treatment of Jane and Ziggy. On the first day of school Renata assumes Jane is a nanny, because she is younger than the other mothers and doesn't appear affluent. When Amabella points to Ziggy as her attacker, Renata speaks harshly to him and encourages the other mothers to shun him and Jane. After many hurtful incidents, Jane confronts Renata and accidentally pokes Renata in the eye. After apologizing, she and Renata make up and resolve their differences. On the night of the fundraiser, Renata discovers the truth about who has been hurting Amabella.

Nathan - Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock
I just hate that guy! He abandoned his wife and baby daughter and then came back to town years later with a younger wife, a yoga instructor who's pretty perfect. Nathan is now the perfect husband and father: he is indulgent and involved, he is now what he wasn't when Madeline needed him, and his presence is a constant reminder of that fact. He is confrontational and aggressive with Ed. After Ed's touching performance on the night on the fundraiser Bonnie congratulates him, while Nathan is an ass, boasting he will blow him out of the water.

Bonnie - Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady
Bonnie is kind, beautiful and lovely to be around. Even though Madeline would like to hate her, she just can't because Bonnie is just so nice. Abigail is very taken with her, and Madeline is very hurt when she decides to move in with Nathan and Bonnie. She is a good influence on her, however when Abigail decides to auction off her virginity online to demonstrate her newly acquired social awareness, Bonnie has to act the step mother and inform her parents. Bonnie avoids conflict and looks for the good in people. On the night of the fundraiser, she notices Perry behaving erratically and follows him outside.


We learned early on in the episode that one of the twins, Max, was in fact the schoolyard bully. As much as Celeste and Perry wanted to believe their sons were in the dark about the violence in their marriage, it became readily apparent that they were quite aware of what was happening. Max was sadly projecting what he had learned from his father. Once Celeste found out the truth and confronted Max, she simply asked him to tell her the truth, without judging or threat of punishment. She embraced him and said, “We all do bad things sometimes.” For a six-year old, there is time to change, for a grown man, none at all. I can guess that the boys and Celeste have many sessions with her therapist in their futures.

In the first episode, when Amabella is asked to point out the child who hurt her, I noticed that one of the twins was standing near Ziggy. In that moment, I suspected one of the twins was involved, and Ziggy was the innocent bystander.


After Perry's and Celeste's fight, Perry ended up dead at the bottom of the stairs. A very skeptical police officer isn't buying the ladies' story that he lost his balance while beating his wife and fell down the stairs. All five women tell the same story and during the finale and shown having a fun and idyllic day, frolicking on the beach with their children.

In light of Perry's violent nature, I don't think anyone would be sad that he was the victim. It was very likely that if he hadn't been killed, Celeste would have been.


When she saw Celeste being viciously attacked by Perry, and the other ladies also in danger, Bonnie rushed over and shoved Perry down the stairs to his death.

I admit I didn't see that one coming. Of all the main characters, I think Bonnie would be everyone's least likely pick to be the killer. As any good murder mystery author would tell you, that what makes her precisely the perfect killer.

I am a firm believer that the book is always better. I don't think knowing the answers to these three questions has spoiled the story for me. On the contrary, it's made me hungry to know more about the characters and their motivations. In the case of Bonnie, especially, I need to know more about her and what leads a gentle, loving pacifist to kill.


  1. Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads: Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She's funny


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