I started reading this new release by the ever-popular Liane Moriarty after a dinner out with friends during which I spoke about a health retreat I’d been to in 2000. I’d planned four weeks in Italy (which is where I’ll be FINALLY when this review goes live) but at the time I was living in East Timor (in my previous life as a diplomat) and stressed out of my little brain; so instead blew the same amount of money on three weeks at a health retreat in the hinterland of the Gold Coast, called The Golden Door (which has now closed).
The experience was life-changing. At the time.
So it was very freaky when I lolled in the bath at 10pm after the dinner to make a start on Nine Perfect Strangers (not remembering anything about the blurb or the book) to discover it is – in fact – centred around the lives of nine (not-so-perfect) strangers who attend a health retreat. WAAAAAY freaky!
Nine Perfect Strangers
by Liane Moriarty
Published by Macmillan Australia
on September 18th 2018
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
ISBN: 1743534922, 9781743534922
The ten-day retreat at boutique health-and-wellness resort Tranquillum House promises healing and transformation. Nine stressed city dwellers are keen to drop their literal and mental baggage and absorb the blissful meditative ambience while enjoying their hot stone massages. They are all on a path to a better way of living. Or at least a better waistline . . .
Watching over them is the resort's director, a woman on a mission to reinvigorate these tired bodies and minds. But to what lengths will she go to achieve her goal?
I’m not a Liane Moriarty devotee. I read Big Little Lies a long time after everyone else and was kinda disappointed, though said it may have been because of overly-heightened expectations. Similarly The Hypnotist’s Love Story was a tad anticlimactic. And looooong.
So I was relieved Nine Perfect Strangers initially offered up something her previous books hadn’t – for me. Namely characters who seemed more complex and interesting; and who I related to more than those in other Moriarty novels. They’re on a journey of some sort – all of them – with personal or relationship issues to resolve.
We’re predominantly in the head of Frances and it was a nice place to be. Also very interesting as she’s a fading romance writer who laps-up events in the lives of those around her… ‘the strangeness of strangers’ as she puts it. But her latest book has been rejected and she’s wondering about her own place in the world – professionally and personally. Only a few years older than me I could relate to her quandary about her personal legacy as well as her life’s work.
All characters are strong, though some (understandably) more likeable / relatable / sympathetic than others.
After a most-excellent start however, there was something very Buffy The Vampire Slayer season 6 or The West Wing circa seasons 5-6 about this book.
Moriarty takes the plot in an entirely different and unexpected direction. It’s weird. Suddenly dire and sinister. Like the retreat guests, I was #WTFing?
I wondered, in fact, if it was a conscious choice from the outset, or if her character(s) went rogue?
But then, like the final seasons of both TV series, the weirdness is reined back in and we’re again on track.
I haven’t read many of Moriarty’s books but it’s interesting that those I’ve read seem to have a common underlying theme of right / wrong and good / bad and a sense we’re expected to make judgement or render a verdict of some kind – which almost literally happens in this case! For readers though, we’re forced to ponder retreat owner and doyenne Masha and her methods. It’s not just a question of whether the ends justifies the means, but her own motivations and intentions come into question.
There are a few themes circling about in this book. One is obviously death (and near-death experiences) as well as grief and loss. But the narrative also centres around the issue of privilege. Masha is a refugee and – despite her lofty confidence and business success – struggles to understand the lack of gratitude in others – born into an entirely different world.
And finally – a no-brainer given the setting – our characters ponder on self / body image and whether our physical selves (or even the lives we find ourselves leading) reflects who we really are.
I know the film / TV rights for this book have already been optioned and Moriarty’s work is loved by many so I’ve no doubt her latest work will be hugely popular.
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty will be published in Australia by Pan Macmillan on 18 September 2018.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.