Study Guide

Big Little Lies Marriage

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Gabrielle: Everyone thinks Celeste and Perry have the perfect marriage, but I'm not so sure about that. (9.8)

Gabrielle has just said an absolute mouthful. Celeste and Perry have anything but the perfect marriage…although it definitely looks good on Facebook.

"That's nice, isn't it?" said Madeline in the strained, sugary tone she used whenever her ex-husband's daughter came up in conversation.

Ed spluttered on his wine, and Madeline gave him a dark look. (12.4)

Madeline has to deal with her ex-husband, ever since he moved back to Pirriwee. Luckily, her new husband Ed is a great guy. Even if he can't help but laugh at her sarcasm sometimes.

"We like Renata and Geoff," said Ed. "So if their daughter says this kid, this Ziggy, hurt her, then we should be supportive." (12.10)

The code of marriage: there are friends that couples like together (check out the way Ed says "we" and not "I"). The couple-to-couple allegiance can be seriously bonding, and Ed is loyal to a fault.

My husband hits me, Renata. Never in the face, of course. He's far too classy for that. Does yours hit you? (13.25)

Celeste, post-assault, considers coming clean to Renata about her situation. But unfortunately, these words never leave Celeste's lips. She only thinks them.


"I'm cleaning my teeth, give me a moment." He rinsed his mouth out, spat, and tapped his toothbrush on the side of the basin. Tap tap tap. Always three decisive, definite taps, as if the toothbrush were a hammer or a wrench." (16.1)

The intimacy of marriage: learning your partner's habits absolutely. Madeline knows exactly how Ed will brush his teeth, because she's seen him do it approximately a gajillion times.

Jane's parents had always gone to bed late and gotten up late, and these days anything that required them leaving the house before nine a.m. was a tremendous effort. Her father had taken early retirement from his job in the public service last year, and since then he and Jane's mother had been staying up late doing their puzzles until three or four in the morning. (17.1)

Jane's parents are your average married couple…well, your average night-owl married couple. They have a loving relationship and their eccentricities compliment each other. That's one of the reasons why Jane was so blind-sided by her assault: she was used to sex and love being nurturing and kind.

She would have liked to find a way to blame someone, ideally her ex-husband, but she couldn't find a way to make Nathan responsible for her menstrual cycle. (18.1)

Madeline has vicious PMS, and she really wants to blame it on her ex-husband. But although he did many, many blame-worthy things over the years, he didn't give her PMS. Too bad.

“Jane! I’m talking about Jane, of course. I remember Abigail’s first day of school. I felt like a freak. It felt like everyone was so disgustingly married. All the parents were in perfect little pairs. I never felt so alone.” (19.6)

Madeline has a lot of empathy for Jane. Jane's a single mom, and Madeline was a single mom for a number of years, thanks to her ex fleeing to Bali. Madeline knows just how clique-y and exclusive the married club can be.

She typed the words “marriage counselor” into Google.

Then she stopped. Backspace, backspace, backspace. No. Been there, done that. This wasn’t about housework and hurt feelings. She needed to talk to someone who knew that people behaved like this; someone who would ask the right questions.

She could feel her cheeks burn as she typed in the two shameful words.

“Domestic.” “Violence.” (27.29)

Celeste has a major breakthrough here. She and Perry don’t have normal domestic husband-and-wife problems. It's not a job for a marriage counselor. She's being assaulted on a regular basis and needs to see someone who specializes in domestic violence.

“She’s a good person, Maddie,” said Nathan desperately. He wasn’t looking at Ed. His eyes were fixed on Madeline. He was calling on their history. He was calling on past memories and past love. Even though he’d walked out on her, he was asking her to forget all that and remember the days when they were obsessed with each other, when they woke up smiling goofily at each other. It was crazy, but she knew that’s what he was asking. He was asking twenty-year-old Madeline for a favor.” (78.30)

Nathan knows that he has a rocky past with Madeline. But he also knows that they're bound by their history as co-parents and as spouses. So he reaches back to the beginning of their marriage, and asks her to help out his current wife by lying to the police.

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