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Book review: Apples never fall, Liane Moriarty

A domestic noir that drops heavily into family dynamics.

There are good reasons why Liane Moriarty has achieved  international bestseller status with her previous eight books, which include The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies, Truly Madly Guilty and Nine Perfect Strangers (recently adapted for the screen.) Her novels explore the milieu she knows best: upper middle-class, affluent white folk in the posher postcodes of Sydney. On the surface their lives seem smugly content: the type of people who do sun salutations and soy lattes but always, always beneath their pristine white linen shirts there’s a blossoming darkness. Her characters may seem privileged and in many ways they are – but they are still subject to the usual vices that afflict everyone regardless of pay packet; with rage, envy and avarice at times overwhelming buttoned-down sedateness.

Apples Never Fall fits right into this category of domestic noir. It focuses on the Delaney family: boomers Stan and Joy who’d previously owned a tennis coaching service but are now not coping at all well with retirement. It doesn’t help that although they have four grown children (Brooke, Troy,  Amy and Logan) they don’t as yet have any grandkids to distract them.

Apart from the usual tedium and demands of life, nothing seems particularly untoward until one day Joy goes missing, leaving behind a garbled text message. Suspicion soon turns to her husband – although another figure of interest is a stranger who’d unexpectedly turned up on the Delaney’s inviting doorsteps seeking shelter a beat earlier. What does Savannah, a bedraggled waif, have to do with the mystery? Could there have been a crime amid the ‘neighbourhood of family pets and garden sprinklers, paid-off mortgages and nicely modulated voices?’

Read: Book review: Late Bloomer, Clem Bastow

Moriarty canvasses a whole lot of issues in this book, which flits back and forth in time, including long-term marriage ennui and frustrations, ageing, parental expectations, domestic violence, mental health, competitive sports and sibling rivalry. Its doorstopper size (nearly 500 pages) means she can take her time to explore the many relationships within the pages, whether they are familial, friendly or romantic ones. She’s good at mining the minutiae, makes you care for her characters and all their idiosyncratic frailties. There are also enough twists in the convoluted narrative to pique interest. The final chapter, in particular, is superb.

Although the eventual unravelling and denoument of Joy’s whereabouts feels a bit weak and lacking in terms of credibility, Apples never fall is a classic Moriarty tale of (Sydney) suburban discontent and disillusionment. But against that dysfunction, shards of hope are also allowed to shine through.

There would be little surprise should a celluloid adaptation follow suit.

Apples never fall by Liane Moriarty
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
ISBN: 9781760785024
Pages: 496pp
Format: paperback
Publication date: 14 September 2021
RRP: $32.99

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and a freelance arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She's the outgoing books editor of The Big issue. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press. Twitter: @thuy_on

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