After coming across Big Little Lies back in 2015, I’ve read most if not all of Liane Moriarty’s books. When I saw that Moriarty had written a new novel, Nine Perfect Strangers (2018), I immediately got myself on the wait list. Like her other books, I found this one very readable and interesting. I was happy to see Moriarty switch up her format a little bit and not lead with a mysterious “big event” and then show what lead up to it. Moriarty did a good job in creating memorable characters, but there may have been a few too many for me to feel invested in all of them.
Nine Perfect Strangers is the story of an unconventional health spa retreat called Tranquillum House. Nine strangers arrive for a ten day retreat that promises everything from relaxation and weight loss to marriage counseling. I’m going to call Frances the main character. We meet her on the drive to Tranquillum House. She is a romance writer having trouble selling her latest book. Frances is also reeling from an internet scam that lost her what she thought was true love as well as a significant chunk of money. On top of that, she’s dealing with intense hot flashes from menopause.
Ben and Jessica are a young couple on the rocks. They won the lottery, but Ben lost his purpose when he stopped working, and he hates all the plastic surgery Jessica can now afford. Carmel’s husband recently left her for another woman. She is obsessed with the idea that losing weight will make him want her again. Carmel has four daughters. Heather and Napoleon brought their grown daughter Zoe with them to this retreat over the anniversary of their son’s death. Lars is a gay divorce lawyer who is struggling with the idea that his partner wants kids. Finally, Tony is an old sports star, now middle-aged and overweight, and looking for change.
Tranquillum House is run by Masha, a woman who drastically changed her life after being brought back from death after a heart attack. One of the paramedics on that call was Yao, who works with her now. Delilah is her other assistant. Masha is a mesmerizing combination of beauty, charisma, self confidence, and ego.
The book unfolds as the guests arrive at Tranquillum House, and we learn more about them as well as the routine at this “life-changing” spa. The retreat seems like an enviable experience with fantastic food, yoga, and activities. Everything is personally designed for each guest in order to fulfill their goals. On the other hand, there is also the feeling that everything is a little off–that the promises are too good to be true, and that the staff is a little too controlling. As time goes by and the guests surrender to their pampering, this balance shifts towards a third act that I did not expect.
I liked this book. Perhaps compared to some other Moriarty books, it did not have quite as much tension. Even though I was always entertained, I sometimes wondered where it was going to go. And even though I remember all the characters, I was not too invested in some of their stories. I was probably most interested in Frances and Heather, Napoleon and Zoe. The other characters did not have as fully developed stories.
Occasionally I felt that Moriarty was playing with the idea of fiction and romance. When Frances goes on her drug trip later in the book, she imagines herself the main character of a book and is told that her love interest is obvious–which it was. Also, after tying up most of the characters’ lives with a tidy bow, the only character (a very minor one) to come to a bad end was the romance novel critic who wrote an especially harsh review of Frances’s writing. I almost saw Moriarty winking behind the fourth wall in these scenes.
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