By Mollie Campbell.
Book: Nine Perfect Strangers
Author: Liane Moriarty
Genre: Mystery, Crime, Thriller
Rating: 9 ½ out of 10.
Nine Perfect Strangers, where do I begin? As a fan of Liane Moriarty’s ‘Big Little Lies’, I was immediately attracted to this book. Whilst the blurb was short and concise, I was intrigued straight away. What I really liked about it is the fact that it is hard to really pinpoint it as one specific genre. When I bought it, I thought it would be a contemporary, sarcastic reflection of modern life and the way people live their lives. It was. But later on I thought it was turning into a bit of a murder mystery, then I thought ‘Oh God it’s going to be a soppy romance isn’t it?’ But by the end, it was a low key thriller, bordering on horror. Maybe not, but there was certainly a lot of potential for horror after that twist, that mind-blowing, terrifying, psychotic twist that I never saw coming.
The story is written in different perspectives, all of the nine ‘strangers’ have their own chapters from their point of view, including the wellness coaches at the retreat (Masha, Yao and Delilah), but protagonist Frances Welty is the primary voice in the story, with a lot of chapters being written from her perspective. Set in Australia, Nine Perfect Strangers is about a group of people who travel to an expensive health retreat in order to ‘Cleanse’ and ‘Transform’ themselves. Each character comes with their own set of reasons but the ultimate goal is to change their lifestyles and perspectives. Frances is a published author of romance novels, Tony is an ex- AFL player, Lars is a Lawyer, Carmel is a divorced mother of four, Ben and Jessica are a rich young couple hoping to save their marriage, and Heather, Napoleon and their daughter Zoe are a grieving family who are spending the anniversary of their son Zach’s death at the retreat.
Moriarty’s observations of humans are portrayed so accurately in this book, we all know someone like each of the characters, and we all live in the same internet/technology-reliant way that they do, whether we like it or not. I think she described so many important issues so accurately, from her depiction of grief, to drug addiction, to the thin line within some people’s mentality that simply cannot prevent them from having a psychotic episode, the complete opposite of what I thought I was about to read. The pace is excellent, I was hooked straight away and read it over the course of two days. The dialogue flowed so naturally, and at times it literally made me laugh out loud, which is something books rarely make me do, especially in public! I love the way the characters were created with such ease, Moriarty was able to carve out these characters in such a defined way, it felt as if I knew them all straight away. This is a very hard thing to do, especially given the fact that the origins of the characters are not fully exposed until a much later stage.
When they first arrive at the retreat, they are given blood tests, which led to a paragraph that made me realise instantly that I was going to enjoy this book;
Did this young man currently helping himself to her blood even have medical expertise? ‘Are you trained as a…?’ she was trying to say ‘do you know what the hell you’re doing?’.
‘I used to be a paramedic in a previous life’ replied Yao.
She met his eyes. Was he possibly a little mad? Did he mean he was a reincarnated paramedic? You never knew with these alternative types. ‘You don’t mean, literally, a previous life?’. Yao laughed out loud. A very normal-sounding laugh ‘It was about ten years ago now’.
Masha, the eccentric and controlling leader of the retreat is introduced in such a towering way; she is a complex character, a Rubik’s cube, layered and unpredictable. And I love the sarcasm that is present throughout: “Before we begin our first guided meditation, I have a story to share’ said Masha. ‘Ten years ago, I died’. Well, that was unexpected. Frances sat a little straighter.
As the narrative progresses, things get weirder, as a reader we start to doubt the authenticity of this retreat, at ‘Tranquilium House’. The guests bags are searched, and they are all forced to take part in a ‘noble silence’, things start to look a bit like a cult, and this idea is confirmed at the end of chapter 21, when Moriarty writes: It was at that moment that Carmel Schneider gave herself to Masha with the same voluptuous abandon that novice nuns once surrendered themselves to God. This is so sudden, and truly chilling to think that this person is becoming susceptible to brainwashing so easily.
The plot twist I wasn’t expecting is when Heather asks Masha; ‘Have you been medicating us?’ which leads into therapy sessions with all of the guests feeling the effects of LSD, which they unknowingly ingested. Whilst this is utterly shocking, the result is hilarious. But things get darker when they all get locked in a room; Masha turns psychotic and will not let them out until they somehow reach the ceiling of the room to find a hidden message. As the guests hopelessly try leaping to the ceiling, Masha, who is watching through the surveillance camera, sedates Yao and forces the guests to play a game called ‘Death Row’ in which they all have to defend each other’s lives to be freed. I mean, talk about plot twist, this is not where I thought he book was leading at all. Ben then says to Masha; ‘What happens if – according to you, our judge- we don’t successfully defend our clients?’. To which she responds: ‘Well, obviously we don’t generally execute our guests! That’s not good for business!’ She laughed gaily. I mean, this is a completely illegal, horrific, psychotic and inhumane turn of events, but somehow Moriarty still manages to make the reader laugh.
The only little fault I can think of is a slight decline after the ‘big event’, even though it is thrilling, it feels a bit anti-climactic. There is also a sense of everything being tied up at the end in a perfect happy ending, but I interpret this as the author’s nod to the protagonist Frances, who writes happy romantic endings herself. But also, it is an honest depiction of some people having ‘perfect’ lives, whether they are happy behind closed doors or not, some people will only ever put a perfect image of themselves on display. I think this book has got something in it for everyone; it is funny, witty and completely unpredictable, in the best way possible.
Thanks for reading; I enjoyed this book so much that I will be publishing another article next week, highlighting my favourite quotes and how Liane Moriarty has encapsulated grief, and many other issues like drug addiction and mental health, in such a truthful and important way.