With the last episode of the hit HBO show airing this week I wanted to look at the book behind the Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon drama. This review will compare the book to season one, as season two has taken carried the story on without contents from the book. Spoilers for season one, none for season two.
While there are some plot changes to the TV series on a whole it’s a pretty faithful adaption. For newbies to the book and the show, the story features the lives three women Madeline, Celeste and Jane whose children are all in kindergarten together. Quiet, single mum Jane had a teenage pregnancy and is new to the area with her son Ziggy; beautiful, former-lawyer Celeste has the perfect life with her twins and millionaire husband; and Madeline, (while happily remarried with two small children,) struggles to cope with her teenage daughter’s closeness to her ex-husband and his new wife.
The novel starts the aftermath of trivia night where the police and investigating an incident that ended in murder. The victim’s identity is a secret and the events of the novel lead up to trivia night.
What’s the same: book and TV show
The three main characters and their relationships with each other and their families are largely the same – the biggest storyline of the book and show, being Jane’s sexual assault as a teenager that resulted in her pregnancy with Ziggy.
This assault has resulted in Jane living and almost nomadic life with her son and keeping the identity of his father, as her attacker, a well-guarded secret. She is also worried that Ziggy has inherited a violent nature from his father, as girls in his class are being bullied and he is blamed – despite his protests of innocence. Is her son as violent as his father?
Madeline deals with her jealousy, after being abandoned by her ex-husband when he daughter was a baby, said ex-husband is now a loving doting husband and father to his second wife and new family. Her daughter now a teenager, also prefers her father and step-mother to life with Madeline and her new husband and family. Madeline, takes young mum Jane under her wing and is a strong defender of Ziggy’s innocence, stands up for Jane against career-mother and schoolyard rival Ranata.
Celeste, is most envied by all the other women for having the most perfect life. But she secretly deals with domestic abuse in silence, regularly justifying to herself that she isn’t a victim, so she isn’t being abused. She justifies that what happened to Jane was abuse, and that doesn’t happen with her and her seemingly perfect husband Perry – so it’s ok.
Differences between the book and the TV show
On a whole the TV show is a very faithful adaption, a few changes were made to the ending and there are few loose end that then are explored in season 2, I suspect that those changes were made in order to continue the story on. That being said I find the book has a more satisfying ending than the season one.
Here a few of the main changes from page to screen:
Madeline and her current husband Ed have a son called Fred in the book as well as their daughter Chloe. Fred was cut from the show, presumably because his character doesn’t do much for the plot.
Madeline’s 14 year old daughter, Abigail, is aged up to 16 in the show. Madeline’s main book storyline is about Abigail trying to sell her virginity online. While this is covered in the show, Madeline’s central plot her war with rival Ranata, and her secret affair with a colleague. I prefer Abigail’s story to the affair as it seemed a little predictable that one of the women would be having an affair.
Career-mother, Ranata has a French au pair who ends up sleeping with Ranata’s husband as well as half the husbands in town.
In the book, Saxon Banks, is the name of Perry’s cousin and Jane’s attacker, which Celeste and Madeline discover and decide to keep from Jane, as they don’t want to upset her. Whereas in the show Saxon Banks is unknown by all the women and Celeste and Madeline help Jane track him down to confront. (In both the book and show it is finally revealed that Perry used his cousin’s name the night he attacked Jane.)
What I love most about this book is how it really addresses the different types of women and how women judge themselves and each other. Celeste doesn’t see herself as a victim, as a victim has stereotypes she doesn’t have. People feel sorry for Jane, but she has the best family life with her and her son. The novel explores the different types of motherhood and womanhood and the pros and cons which each variety. There is not one right way, and there are challenges and advantages with all of them.
While season one pretty faithfully covers the story of the book, if you’ve enjoyed the show so far I would recommend reading the book. The characters internal thoughts are really powerful, and it really highlights how excellent the acting is that so much in conveyed on screen.