The 6 Biggest Ways HBO's Big Little Lies Differed from the Book

In case you missed it, HBO's buzziest, chicest mini-series Big Little Lies aired its finale on Sunday night. The episode stayed pretty true to the novel, delivering the same twists–with some slight adjustments. Here, the biggest differences from novel to adaptation, for better, or for worse. Spoilers ahead, obviously.

Avenue Q

Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) does work part time at a community theater and is working on putting on a show, but it’s not Avenue Q and the book does not dedicate nearly as much time to the production. In the book, it serves more as Madeline’s way of proving that she does work and is not a full-time mommy.


In HBO’s retelling, Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) go to therapy together (at first, that is). In the book version: Celeste goes alone and seeks out a therapist specializing in battered women. She selects one a few towns over so that no one there would recognize her—which lines up with her idea of keeping up appearances of a perfect life. But when we do get to Celeste’s one-on-one sessions, everything—the denial, the acceptance, and finding the back-up apartment—goes down pretty much exactly how the book tells it.

Big Little Lies - Book vs Show - EMBED
Courtesy HBO


Liane Moriarty’s book really only tells the story from Jane (Shailene Woodley), Celeste, and Madeline’s point of view. But, oh man, was I glad to see this side of Renata (Laura Dern), who was not explored in the least in the novel. Laura Dern, you are seriously my hero. Also, fun fact, in the novel, Renata's husband has been cheating on her with the French nanny the whole time, so she moves to London with little Amabella.

Big Little Lies - Book vs. Movie - 2
Courtesy HBO

Madeline Is a Faithful Wife

This is the one that bothered me most. Madeline and Ed’s (Adam Scott) fraught marriage is pretty much a non-issue in the book. Yes, they do have a conversation stemming from Ed’s insecurity over Madeline’s somewhat obsessive anger toward her ex-husband, but she assures him that she loves Ed, not Nathan (James Tupper). But, book Madeline is not a cheater. There’s no Joseph, no Tori, and no Avenue Q. Madeline does make questionable choices when interfering in her friends and kids lives, but her stable and happy marriage with Ed is one of her most redeeming qualities. TV Madeline is much less likable (although Reese Witherspoon can make you fall in love with any character she plays). Plus, the show glosses over her heartbreaking relationship with her ex-husband, who left Madeline and baby Abigail when she was just days old. Nathan pulled the classic "going out to get diapers and never came back" trope, leaving Madeline to raise her daughter as a single mother, until 10 years later, *poof* he wants back in their lives. Abigail, who probably didn’t realize her mother's loss at the time, welcomes him back with open arms, which understandably, breaks her mother’s heart, leading to a strained relationship when she moves in with her once-absent dad.

Saxon Banks

This was another pretty big departure from the novel. Saxon Banks was the man who Jane thought raped her, although in the end we know it was really Perry. Book Perry borrowed his cousin's name, "Saxon Banks," for the night, in order to ensure his infidelity stays a secret (way to throw your cousin under the bus, Perry). When Jane tells Madeline and Celeste her rapist's name, think they know the "true" identity of Ziggy’s father: Celeste's cousin-in-law. Celeste keeps that information to herself, though, not wanting to out the fact that her married cousin is an adulterer. The "Saxon Baker" plotline of the TV show never happens, and in the book, the truth comes out when Jane finally meets Perry at trivia night, like in the show.

The Big Reveal

HBO stayed very true to the important plot twists: Perry is Ziggy’s father and Bonnie is the one who kills Perry. But the way it went down in the novel was slightly different than the show. All of the adults—Madeline and Ed, Celeste and Perry, Bonnie and Nathan, and Jane—are standing outside on an upper deck of the school overlooking, you guessed it, the ocean. Jane recognizes Perry, telling him that the last time they met, he said his name was Saxon Banks. Celeste now realizes that her husband isn't just a domestic abuser, he's also a rapist. Perry tells Celeste his night with Jane meant nothing, and she throws a drink in his face, which, of course, enrages him. He backhands her, hard, throwing her across the porch. An infuriated Bonnie pushes him, and he falls back from her yoga-toned arm strength, toppling over the balcony. Another important piece of information left out of the show: Bonnie grew up with an abusive father, and understandably, has no patience for cowardly, abusive husbands. In the novel, right before the big push is where she delivers her most epic line: “Your children see!" evoking his son's clearly learned violent habits. "We see! We f—ing see!” Go, Bonnie!

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