Nine Perfect Strangers: Liane Moriarty

Nine Perfect Strangers: Liane Moriarty
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2018
Pages: 450
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Gryffindor

Nine people arrive at the Tranquillum House health resort hoping for transformation. Maybe they want to lose weight, or maybe they want to revive their relationship. Everyone is here for their own reason.
52-year-old Frances Welty is looking to get her career…not lose weight, as others may think. A romance novelist suffering from the aftermath of a fake relationship, she is looking forward to taking a break on a friend’s recommendation. She knows it will be difficult, but as the ten days go by, it becomes clear that this isn’t quite the getaway that Frances, or anyone else, had in mind.
Are they really going to transform? Or should they run away…fast?

With the knowledge that this book has gotten very mixed reviews, I decided to plunge in and make a decision for myself. After all, I enjoyed the other books I read by Moriarty. I do have to agree with one thing: this book should be read with an open mind and won’t be for everyone.

This is not an action-packed journey. It is a character study, which I also feel is one of the novel’s strongest points: characterization. Readers meet Frances almost right away, and as a result, I connected with her more. She was older, but genuinely nice, funny, not condescending, and not crotchety. Yes, these people do delve into stereotype-y territory sometimes (we have a gay lawyer who is attractive and flamboyant in speech, a teacher who quotes poetry, a fake Instagram influencer who I didn’t like for most of the novel, a middle-aged romance writer who’s sassy and falls in love with every guy she looks at, a young woman who loves her phone, etc.) but their interactions are what sealed the deal for me. What happens when you place them all at a health resort? Who knows. After all, I’m skeptical of some of these health fads myself as well as anything that’s shown on Dr. Oz, but others are all about them. Recently, too, Ellen DeGeneres sent one of her writers to a spa where she was asked to have leeches suck on her for a while in the name of beauty. But there must be some benefits, right? Otherwise, they wouldn’t be trends.

Everyone is coming for a reason. Lars just wants to get away. Ben and Jessica want to save their marriage. One couple is getting over the death of their child. But then they’re forced together pretty quickly, and I liked seeing how relationships formed as they confronted their difficulties. We learn more about each of them through little reveals as we turn pages. Moriarty is usually not dramatic in her reveals and I like them that way. The setting was a unique character in itself: Tranquillum House is a health resort that used to be an actual house. It has its own history, and I wouldn’t have minded learning more about it after the actual vacation part takes a backseat (more on that in a bit).

There are standard Moriarty traits here: characters and social commentary. I’ve always liked how she’s able to use her characters to say things about ourselves and how we treat each other. However, the commentary here isn’t quite up to her usual standard. She’ll often slide into second person when she has something to say to us about life, and this can be distracting. I did find that she had some interesting thoughts about wealth. Jessica is the fakest person on the planet and loves keeping up appearances, but can she be criticized if she donates a lot of money to charity? Hmm. And why do women have such abusive relationships with their bodies? As always, there are things to think about here. Additionally, it’s worth noting that Moriarty throws in some nifty pieces of foreshadowing that readers don’t notice are foreshadowing until later. Fun!

Halfway through, the book shifts gears sharply. It starts to become a different story, with elements of psychological thrillers even, and that is where I had trouble believing some of the actions taking place. Essentially, all the characters are asked to work together. Still, some moments didn’t make sense. For example, why did the director start behaving the way she did all of a sudden? Further, these methods seemed like a really strange way for characters to find “transformation,” which is talked about throughout the novel. In The Hypnotist’s Love Story, I didn’t have a lot of trouble believing in hypnosis therapy, as I’ve seen shows and it looks pretty legit. Incoming general spoilers, skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want them. With drugs, however, not only did it make for ridiculous scenes, but it also seemed like people that the guests were hallucinating were providing all of the answers for them. Odder still, they seem to almost be real. One character escapes a scary situation when a character in their dreams wakes them up. Other characters all see the same guy at once, even though one of them has not met said guy. That seemed unbelievable. In the end, too, it seems like all the characters got happy endings out of nowhere. Despite the resort itself doing little to nothing to change their lives, everyone suddenly gets a happy ending and knows how to solve their problems upon returning home. Moriarty chalks this up to “good timing.” One of the weirdest parts was how every character seemed grateful for their experience at the resort. That made no sense. Did they not remember how they spent the second half of the novel? Is this book suggesting that certain substances are the answer to everyone’s problems? That seems like a cop-out to me.

The ending–or should I say, last 50 pages, because it truly ended 30 pages earlier than it did–are pretty rushed. I would have liked to see these characters come to terms more with their situations rather than just send everyone home and then do 30 pages of “where are they now?” There’s also a bit of predictability with one character especially, and sadly, with the writing, Moriarty falls into a certain annoying Jane Austen-esque cliche not once, but twice near the end that is nowhere near original (readers will see what I mean–it’s small, but it really bugged me–she’s a good enough author that she doesn’t need to be using these cliches). Add in a very silly, spiteful last chapter (should I be afraid to leave a bad review now?) and the last section is overall pretty weak. I think that these characters should have worked for their endings a little more.

Like many, this is not my favorite of Moriarty’s works. You will need an open mind. However, I also loved these characters and watching them interact. At the same time, though, that’s what it is: a character study, putting nine characters in a room (sometimes literally) with an edgy, thrilling twist. At times it seems just plain nonsensical–in one chapter I could barely comprehend any dialogue– but the characters made me remember how much I like her style. I’ll continue reading novels that she puts out there.

Book Club Questions (spoilers!)

(Note: the novel also comes with questions but they’re very feminist-y and I feel that these will allow for a broader look at the novel for all genders)

  1. In the blogger’s (read: mine) opinion, Masha is an embodiment of her guests’ problems, or else has suffered similar problems (for example, losing a child is reminiscent of why Heather and Napoleon are there). What other problems does she face that connect her to her guests? What made her decide to change her life?
  2. Who changes in the novel, and in what ways? Who doesn’t change? Do you find that the people who are most or least resistant to change are more or less likely to embrace it?
  3. What unusual measures have you tried to improve your health? Did they work for you?
  4. Consider the couples of the novel. Can going on a retreat improve you as a couple? If so, what did Ben and Jessica do wrong? What did Lars do right? If not, what can improve it?
  5. Did your opinions change on any of the characters as the novel went on? For who, and why? Likewise, how do other characters judge each other and how are they right or wrong? Did anyone seem especially judgy to you?
  6. Going back to Ben and Jessica, they were warned that wealth changes people. Jessica’s interests changed, and she chose a “fake” lifestyle of Instagram followers and plastic surgery…and The Bachelor. Ben, however, tries not to make fun of her, because she donates to charity. Does this override her other life’s decisions? Should we be less judgmental of wealthy people if they are charitable?
  7. Masha wants her guests to find transformation. Besides health, what other types of transformations are shown in the book?

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