There are more than enough secrets to go around in the intertwining lives of three women connected to a Catholic elementary school in Sidney.
Australian Moriarty (The Hypnotist’s Love Story, 2012, etc.) experiments with the intersection of comedy and tragedy in her slyly ambitious consideration of secrecy, temptation, guilt and human beings’ general imperfection. Superorganized, always-on-the-go Cecilia is a devoted mother who constantly volunteers at her daughters’ school while running a thriving Tupperware business. Not quite as perkily perfect as she seems, 40-year-old Cecilia yearns for some drama in her life. Then, she finds a sealed envelope from her husband that is to be opened only in the event of his death. John-Paul is very much alive, but the temptation to read the contents is understandably strong. Once she does, she can’t erase the secrets revealed. Meanwhile, in Melbourne, 30-something Tess’ husband breaks the news that he’s fallen in love with Tess’ first cousin/best friend/business partner. Furious, Tess moves to her mother’s house in Sydney. Enrolling her 6-year-old son at St. Angela's, Tess runs into former lover Connor, and sparks re-ignite. Formerly an accountant, Connor is now the school’s hunky gym coach and is crushed on by students, teachers and parents like Cecilia. One holdout from the general adoration is widowed school secretary Rachel. Connor was the last person to see her 17-year-old daughter Janie before Janie was strangled in 1984. Still grief-stricken and haunted by a belief that she could have prevented Janie’s death if she hadn’t been seven minutes late to pick her up, Rachel is increasingly convinced Connor is the murderer. As the women confront the past and make hard decisions about their futures (the novel’s men are pale and passive), their fates collide in unexpected ways.
Moriarty may be an edgier, more provocative and bolder successor to Maeve Binchy. There is real darkness here, but it is offset by the author’s natural wit—she weaves in the Pandora myth and a history of the Berlin Wall—and irrepressible goodwill toward her characters.