What would you do if you accidentally found an envelope addressed to you, in your husband’s handwriting, indicating that it should be opened upon his death? Your husband is young and very much alive. You have three young daughters. Your busy life as president of the parent-teacher organization, enthusiastic Tupperware salesperson, and obsessive organizer doesn’t leave much time for drama. Would you open it?
That is the dilemma that faces Cecelia in Australian Liane Moriarty’s latest novel, The Husband’s Secret, which is set in Sydney but will also ring true for American readers. Cecelia is not the only one with a problem. Rachel, another member of the close neighborhood, is facing the departure of her adult son and his family, including her beloved grandson, to live in New York. To add to the pain, Rachel is still grieving for her 17-year-old daughter who died many years ago. The murder investigation into her death remains open. And then there’s Tess, who’s just returned to the neighborhood from Melbourne with her young son when her marriage starts to wobble. Her husband has declared his love for Tess’s cousin, Felicity. Felicity isn’t just Tess’s cousin: she’s her confidante, best friend, and business partner. Now she is Tess’s rival.
Of course, the first question we wanted an answer to was: Would you have opened the envelope? Moriarty said, “I’m ashamed to say I wouldn’t hesitate; I would rip it open. My husband always says he knows that I would have opened the envelope and that’s why he would never be so foolish as to write such a letter.”
The organic nature of Moriarty’s writing produced three main characters. Rachel and Tess are not secondary characters to Cecelia but hold their own. That’s because Moriarty doesn’t “plan [her] novels. I just start with a premise and then go with it. It seemed that Tess and Rachel had things to say. If I’d written it all focused from Cecelia’s perspective, then there would be so many things we couldn’t possibly have revealed.”
The ending to The Husband’s Secret is unexpected. Moriarty easily could have opted for a tidier one, but she was passionate about doing it her way. “Because that’s the way life is,” she explained. “I want people to feel good at the end, but I don’t want them to feel that it’s so neatly tied up that they won’t keep thinking. If so many people had done things just a tiny bit differently, their lives would have taken a different direction.”
She added, “with The Husband’s Secret, there was a lot of argument amongst my editors. My Australian editor didn’t like the ending, but my U.S. and U.K. editors liked it, and I was adamant that I wanted to keep it.”
What’s better than one writer in the family? Three writers. “I’ve got four sisters and two of them write,” she said. “My sister, Jaclyn Moriarty, was the first of us to become published, and she sort of blazed the trail for me. If it weren’t for her, I never would have had the incentive—pure sibling rivalry—that pushed me to finally finish my first novel.” Although there are no other writers in her family, she laughs and says, “my father always is happy to take the credit. Both my father and mother are wonderful storytellers.”
Is she like any of her characters? She explains, “Cecelia is a very social person and Tess is the polar opposite. She suffers from social anxiety and is very shy. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle, definitely leaning more toward Tess than Cecelia. I don’t like to go to parties where I don’t know anyone.” This is a reference to her character of Cecelia who has to attend a lot of Tupperware parties.
Moriarty is a keen observer of human nature. Does she rush home and take notes? “Sometimes I do,” she says. “I definitely am an observer of people rather than the landscape. I have no awareness of things around me, but I am very interested in people’s facial expressions and the things they aren’t saying out loud.”
Are there tweaks she had to make to her book for an American audience? Well, yes, but mostly in little ways. For instance, in Australian slang, “ute” is a pickup truck and “bubbler” is a water fountain. Even though Moriarty is a great reader of American books, it still amazed her that “there are a lot of colloquial phrases that I didn’t realize were Australian, that we’re the only ones who say these things!”
It’s unlikely she’d ever be tempted to write a series. She says with finality, “I just love coming up with new characters, new premises, and new situations.”