Nine Perfect Strangers
by Liane Moriarty
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
Length: 464 Pages
Release date: November 6, 2018
Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? In Liane Moriarty’s latest page-turner, nine perfect strangers are about to find out…
Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.
Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?
It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.
Combining all of the hallmarks that have made her writing a go-to for anyone looking for wickedly smart, page-turning fiction that will make you laugh and gasp, Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers once again shows why she is a master of her craft.
Nine Perfect Strangers seems to have really mixed reviews on Goodreads, and while I really enjoyed it, I can absolutely understand why it didn’t work for some people. The first half of the book felt like a bit of a slog. The pacing is seriously off, and weirdly enough, the novel almost seems almost self-aware and defensive about it. One of the major characters is a novelist who muses early on about her editor constantly nagging about pacing, seeing this as indicative of an epidemic lack of patience in modern society. Am I reading too much into this passage? Maybe. But it was a kind of surreal experience to have a fictional character lecture me about readers being too picky about pacing in a novel that takes forever to get moving.
This is structurally different from other Moriarty novels I’ve read, which typically alternate between two timelines, hinting at a big reveal about something that happened in the middle of the two, while taking ages to get there. Nine Perfect Strangers is told from beginning to end, with backstories peppered in through conversation rather than flashbacks. I actually liked this change of pace and I think Moriarty avoided the pitfall of her novels starting to seem too formulaic by mixing this up.
There’s also this weird blend of madcap absurdity and serious plot points. Based on other reviews, the zany bits drove some readers over the edge, but I didn’t mind these. The crisis in this book will absolutely strain your suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. It’s ridiculous and darkly funny, but if you’re able to just run with it, the story is a lot of fun. It does have the effect of making the novel kind of tonally odd, however. You have this over-the-top scenario unfolding whilst the characters are dealing with very real emotional turmoil over various painful endings: death, divorce, and fading careers.
The two major characters are clearly Frances (washed-up romance novelist struggling with menopause) and Zoe (20-year-old mourning the death of her twin brother.) While there are other characters that Moriarty spends a lot of time attempting to develop, none of the others every really feel like they quite get there. Frances and Zoe feel fleshed out and real while all the others feel like a rough sketch. The other characters being less developed isn’t so much a problem in and of itself; it’s the sheer amount of time devoted to all of these characters for little payoff. I feel like a lot of the pacing issues came form Moriarty trying (and failing) to fully develop the entire cast of characters, when that really wasn’t necessary.
This review feels like directionless rambling, but it’s kind of difficult to put my thoughts on this novel into words without giving away the whole plot, and you really need to watch it unfold yourself to appreciate it. Nine Perfect Strangers is a truly weird book with a sometimes unbelievable story, but I had a great time on this roller coaster of a novel with Frances and Zoe.
CW: Suicide plays a major role in the plot of this novel.
Thank you for reading! Have you read any of Liane Moriarty’s books? Please share your thoughts in the comments!