It’s a wonder the women of Big Little Lies have such an array of gorgeous designer clothes. There must be no room in their closets with all the skeletons inside them. Yes, while it seems that everyone in Monterey, California has a secret or twelve, it’s no secret that Big Little Lies is a sinfully addictive hit. It was initially meant to be a miniseries, but it turns out that viewers can’t get enough suburban scandal. HBO renewed Big Little Lies for a second season which is currently airing.
Pulling off a project of this quality takes a village of creative, talented people but one person who should especially be thanked is Liane Moriarty. She’s the bestselling author who wrote the book on which the series is based, and it’s every bit as engrossing. But as a work of art is adapted from one medium to another, certain changes have to be made. Which elements did the series keep? And which did they toss away like stale cupcakes at the PTA bake sale? Here is Big Little Lies: 5 Differences From The Book (& 5 Things Kept The Same).
10 Same: Madeline Vs. Renata
The image of an elementary school kiss-and-ride should evoke feelings of kindness and encouragement. However, at Otter Bay Elementary, it is indeed a battleground. Though the events of the book are set in Australia, not California, the relationship between Madeline and Renata is just as contentious. Renata is the queen of the Working Moms while Madeline rules the Part-Time/Stay-at-Home Moms. It’s like West Side Story only instead of knives, their weapons are gossip and side-eye.
True to the novel, things are exacerbated when Renata believes Ziggy, Jane’s son, is the one who bullied her daughter Amabaella. Enraged, Renata tries to give Ziggy the social kiss of death by inviting the entire class to Amabella’s birthday party, except him. Madeline, who is firmly Team Jane, organizes a Disney on Ice event on the same day as the party. Even though Madeline and Renata have since buried the hatchet, the battle of the alpha-moms is a plotline that thrives both onscreen and on the page.
9 Different: Madeline’s Affair
In Moriarty’s novel, Madeline and husband Ed have a pretty solid marriage. But who wants to watch that on TV? So what’s the best way to take a wrecking ball to the marital home? A workplace affair, of course. Madeline works part-time at a community theater and things get hot behind the curtains between her and Joseph Bachman, the theater director. Their passionate affair is a direct contrast to Madeline and Ed’s marriage, which is depicted as largely unromantic.
After getting in a car accident together, Madeline and Ed escape discovery by the skin of their teeth. But no secret stays buried in Monterey for too long. Ed finds out and now things between him and Madeline are on the rocks. Their bland marriage needs more spice, but definitely not bitterness.
8 Same: Abigail’s Website
Trying to cure a teenager of their recklessness is like having a drink-free PTA fundraiser—it’s just not done. Madeline and Nate’s daughter Abigail is every bit the rebel with a cause as she is in the book. She’s quite close with her hip, New Agey stepmom Bonnie, who awakens the activist inside her. Abigail decides to auction her virginity online to raise money for Amnesty International and call attention to trafficking. While Abigail’s heart is in the right place and her commitment to a worthy cause is admirable, her parents quite understandably go ballistic. As if Bonnie wasn’t in the doghouse enough for taking Abigail to get birth control pills…
7 Different: Mystery Benefactor
Abigail doesn’t follow through with the auction in either the book or the series. However, the TV version sees Abigail taking her website down after a heart-to-heart with Madeline. For once in her life, Madeline is (relatively) calm—maybe she vomited out her rage along with her dinner in the show’s most viral scene ever. Madeline confesses her own missteps to Abigail, namely her affair with Joseph. In retrospect, maybe she should have held back on that one.
The novel’s version of events has Abigail actually getting a bid. An unnamed man offers $100,000 for Abigail to take her website down, which she does. The donor actually turns out to be Celeste, who is known in the book to use her affluence to support many philanthropic causes. And this one is worth it on many, many levels.
6 Same: Celeste’s Nightmare Marriage
This plotline more or less faithfully follows its literary counterpart. Perry routinely harms Celeste, who feels complicit in the violence because she fights back, and this often leads to rough love. Neither book nor show shies away from this depiction of true martial hell. After seeking therapy, Celeste makes the brave decision to leave Perry. She plans an exit strategy but is caught, leading to the chain of events that results in Perry’s death.
The Celeste-Perry storyline is easily one of the most talked-about narratives of the show. It’s so disturbing and emotionally arresting that it’s no surprise both Alexander Skarsgård and Nicole Kidman won several awards for their performances.
5 Different: Keeping It Secret
After Perry’s death, Show-Celeste takes an entirely different path than Book-Celeste. The latter opts to share her story and the novel ends with her about to give a public speech about her abuse. Book-Celeste also opts to return to her practice as a lawyer. In both book and show, Celeste had left the law behind to raise her sons.
Show-Celeste, however, elects to keep the dark side of her marriage under wraps. Whether an abuse survivor decides to speak out or not, their choice should be respected. With the Monterey Five passing Perry’s death off as an accident, any evidence of Perry’s domestic violence would give Celeste a motive in the eyes of the police. This brings about a web of complications, namely with her mother-in-law Mary Louise, played to passive-aggressive perfection by Meryl Streep.
4 Same: Ziggy’s father
Poor Ziggy. In neither the book nor the show can he escape the false accusation of being Amabella’s bully. Jane believes her son when he adamantly tells her he isn’t responsible, but she fears he has violent tendencies. This is because Ziggy is the product of Jane’s forced love. In the book, Jane had seen Perry’s picture in a brochure but neither Book-Jane nor Show-Jane realize that Perry is Celeste’s husband until the gut-punching reveal at the fundraiser.
Eventually, the truth comes out and Celeste has a difficult conversation with her twins about their father’s monstrous history. Naturally, this sets Otter Bay a-buzzing and Ziggy finds himself a target. As if the Chapmans haven’t been through enough.
3 Different: Saxon Banks
Saxon Banks is the alias Perry gives Jane before assaulting her. This is the same in both book and show, though Book-Perry had a much deeper connection to Saxon Banks. It turns out that Saxon Banks is Perry’s cousin. When Perry was a child and up to no good, he would always avoid getting punished by telling everyone his name was Saxon Banks. Perry seems to carry on this practice into adulthood.
However, upon meeting Jane, Show-Perry just randomly made up the name. When Jane tells Madeline the name of her attacker, Madeline tracks down a Saxon Baker. The women believe this could be the same man, so Jane plans to confront him…with a gun. But it turns out Saxon Baker is one of the only true innocents of the show. As far as we know, he’s just an interior designer.
2 Same: The Culprits
Season 1 has two overarching plots—the bully whodunnit and the death at the fundraiser. The responsible parties are the same in both works. Amabella’s tormentor is revealed to be none other than Max Wright, one of Celeste and Perry’s twins. Celeste was convinced that her children were oblivious to Perry’s abuse. A big reason for her staying in her marriage was because she thought Perry was such a great dad. But children are smarter than we give them credit for, and Max learned by example.
At the fundraiser, we find out that Perry is the one who died and that Bonnie killed him. Of all the times an Audrey Hepburn pushed an Elvis Presley off a balcony, this is by far the wildest.
1 Different: The Ending…And Beyond
The novel sees the women deciding to be big little truthful for once. Though the idea of declaring Perry’s death an accident is bandied about, Bonnie decides to come clean. Book Bonnie is given a backstory, making her seemingly inexplicable rage less of a head-scratcher. As a child, Bonnie witnessed her father repeatedly abusing for mother. She lives with PTSD and is triggered when she sees Perry mistreating Celeste at the fundraiser.
It doesn’t go down this way in the series. The women decide to honor the show’s title and stick to the accident story. Season 2 on is entirely original content, brimming with more lies, betrayals, and of course, Meryl Streep.
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