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Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

last anniversary moriarty Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

Having read rather a good deal of chick lit this year, Ive found that these novels tend to vary widely upon where they fall upon this rather broad genre. At one end are those novels that are a step or two away from traditional romances (with a few brand names and a bit of extra snark thrown in for good measure), while at the other are those that could fit quite snugly into the mainstream, or even literary fiction, shelves. These particular novels tend to have a darker core than their zippier, more romancey cousins, and may also flirt with other genre conventions, such as that of the mystery or thriller genres. Liane Moriartys The Last Anniversary is one of these latter novels: one that might be nominally chick lit, but which would be rather more comfortably placed in amongst its mainstream peers'especially if those mainstream peers are in close proximity to the mystery shelves. Its a rather surprising novel in many ways, and is certainly one that confounds a number of genre expectations.


It has been three years since Sophie Honeywell broke up with almost-fiance Thomas Gordon, and Sophie, although not necessarily regretting the decision'Thomas, while a lovely chap and a good chef, didnt exactly inspire in Sophie the sort of breath-stealing passion shed rather like in her lover'is beginning to wonder whether she might have missed the boat in terms of all things love and baby-related, and her biological clock is sounding about as subtle as Munichs glockenspiel. However, Sophies life is given rather a shake-up when Thomass Aunt Connie bequeaths, rather surprisingly, her stunning estate on the tourist haven Scribbly Bark island to her. Needless to say its not only Sophie who is surprised by her sudden windfall, and Sophie finds herself in the midst of some family politics more transient and unstable than that of Liberia. But the mystery of Aunt Connies will is not the only mystery facing Sophie and the family into which she has again been catapulted: Scribbly Bark island, it turns out, is home to a number of uber-secrets that, if they come out, could well be the islands commercial undoingand the undoing of the family itself.

My thoughts

I have to admit that, based on the light and fluffy cover, and the fact that I nicked this novel out of my mums notoriously beach-readish library, I was expecting something a little less challenging from The Last Anniversary. I was, however, delighted to find that Id been led astray by outward appearances. While the novel does, of course, spend some time dwelling on the existential angst that apparently comes with being single and childless at forty, its far more than one womens race against her biological clock. In addition to some of the more light-hearted fare encountered throughout the narrative, Moriarty engages a number of challenging themes, and does so thoughtfully and unflichingly. The post-natal depression experienced by the outwardly unflappable Grace, for example, is presented in a way that is raw and unrelenting but, due to Moriartys excellent way with character, is sympathetic at the same time. Other dark issues such as rape, betrayal, and the day-to-day emotional bullying found in some romantic relationships, are also addressed, and while not allowed quite the same amount of page space in order to be addressed in a complex, thorough manner, are treated in a way that is substantially more than superficial, and that is often eminently believable. Moriarty, however, balances these more challenging themes beautifully with the less confronting parts of the narrative, and manages to do so in a way doesnt trivialise them in the least.

While the narrative itself follows a fairly unsurprising path, its not the plot thats the star of this book. Rather, character and setting shine here. The setting of Scribbly Gum island is beautifully rendered, and Moriartys evident attention to milieu is augmented by a cast of characters who slot perfectly into this setting, with the two bridged together by the authors profound understanding of Australianness. Moriarty avoids the ponderously overt approach to doing Australian injected with such painful determination into so many Australian novels (or worse, novels that arent Australian, but try to be), and instead allows her characters culture to shine through in a number of snippets that will have readers familiar with the plight of the aspirational classes nodding along: iced Vo-Vos, pots of tea, marble cake recipes, terrible clothing, Weight Watchers, awkward attempts at entertaining, and appallingly bad childrens literature, just to name a few, pop up in passing, but arent given the lavish attention some authors seem to think they require. Through a combination of the above, and of course the omnipresent family politics, the reader is given an in-depth understanding of most of the books characters, and given the rather substantial cast, the fact that each character (with the exception of Rose and Enigma, who tended to blur together for me, although perhaps, given the books twist, this was intended) is so easily distinguished from the others is testament to Moriartys skill with characterisation. I did, however, have some misgivings about the male characters in the book, as they did tend to feel rather less well-rounded than the females, and in the cases of characters such as Ron, Mr Egg Head, and Rose and Connies father, are condensed down into something approaching evil. Given the diversity of female characters in the book, and the balanced approach taken to their actions present and past (and lets be honest, there are enough skeletons in this familys closest to warrant a home with rather more storage space), the condemnatory approach taken towards the male characters is all the more noticeable.

While The Last Anniversary is for the most part (there are some robotic-sounding missteps with the present-tense used throughout the book) enjoyably and effectively wrought at the prose level, written in a style that veers between the fluffy and flitty to the astonishingly cruel as required, this sense of authorial control, as mentioned earlier, isnt quite as evident at the narrative level. The mystery surrounding Scribbly Gum Island is perhaps played up a little too much, particularly given the fairly mundane (and easily guessable) truth behind it, and one cant help but feel that the book could have been streamlined a little by reducing the emphasis on this particular plot point. Similarly, theres some redundancy in Sophies quest for love and romance, and this results in a certain amount of tedium that detracts from an otherwise quick and zippy plot. I was, however, quite delighted with the eventual outcome of Sophies quest to go forth and multiply, as the fairly non-traditional solution felt rather more fitting with Sophies character than her previous mooning over married men, men with girlfriends, men with significant others, and, well, really, just about any man with a heartbeat.


The Last Anniversary was a surprise discovery for me, and one Im rather glad I came across. While its not a flawless work, its certainly one thats thoroughly engaging, and that will have readers caught up in the complex familial machinations of the residents of Scribbly Gum Island. Moriarty has considerable facility with characterisation, and works hard to balance the darker elements of the plot with moments of delightful levity (competitive body building for Weight Watchers members, anyone?), resulting in a read that is somehow both insouciant and thoughtful at the same time. Its a fine outing, and Moriarty is clearly an author to watch.

Rating: star Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriartystar Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriartystar Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriartyhalfstar Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriartyblankstar Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty (very good)

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See also our review of What Alice Forgot (Rating: star Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriartystar Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriartystar Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriartyblankstar Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriartyblankstar Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty)

Other books by Liane Moriarty

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  1. Sounds like one I should add to my Want to Read pile! I love chick lit books that have that edgy tone to it as well.

  2. Stephanie /

    Definitely give it a go. I think theres a copy of one of her other books floating about here, so Ill try to get to it before I have to head back home to Melbourne. :)

  3. Oh I didnt realise she had released another this year, I enjoyed both her books so I will have to check the library for What Alice Forgot

  4. Stephanie /

    I have a copy of What Alice Forgot hereshall try to get to it before I head home next week!