All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

on October 4, 2018

Nine Perfect Strangers 
Liane Moriarty
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 493p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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?

These nine perfect strangers have no idea what’s about to hit them.

This review is probably going to be a bit of a mess.

Firstly, I haven’t been able to read much lately. Before I read Nine Perfect Strangers yesterday, the last book I managed to read was back on the 26th September, because for I kept getting savage headaches whenever I was trying, be it on my iPad or in physical form. I’d read the last few September books through thumping headaches and then took a few days off to try and get them to go away. I remembered I was probably a little while overdue for an eye exam and so I went to get my eyes checked out. Turns out, I do need new glasses and my eyes were having a lot of trouble focusing on anything up close, which makes me concentrate harder….which causes headaches. So. I got to go through the whole process of picking new frames and all that fun stuff. I got glasses when I was 11 because I couldn’t see the board in school anymore but weirdly, during this eye exam, one of my eyes’ distance vision had actually improved.

A lot of people have been urging me to read this and although I have a tonne of October books I should be getting to, I picked it up yesterday on a whim. I didn’t plan to read the whole thing – it’s almost 500p and I wasn’t sure I would get through it but turns out, I did. It was….not what I expected.

Firstly, the pacing is quite slow for probably at least the first third of the book. You get a few different view points cycling back and forth, mostly Frances, a 50-something romance writer who has just had her latest book rejected. She’s twice divorced and has just been the victim of a brutal ‘break up’ which is not what it seems. She’s on her way to a 10 day retreat in country New South Wales and she’s having a lot of thoughts and what seems like some severe issues of hypochondria. Then eventually we get introduced to the others who are going to be on the same retreat as Frances – the Marconi family (Dad Napoleon, Mum Heather and daughter Zoe), married young couple Ben and Jess, grumpy Tony, beautifully handsome Lars and tired mother Carmel. They’re all looking for something at the retreat – to lose weight, to distract themselves, to gain clarity, to get some counselling, to learn new healthy habits. What they get is…..not what they bargained for. A bit like me with this book.

Firstly, the characterisation is amazing here. Most of them are rich, fully realised and come with an array of issues and baggage that’s believable and written really well. Liane Moriarty does relationships and entanglements so well, she does baggage and complicated emotion so well. I really enjoyed learning about each and every one of them but I had a really special liking for the Marconi family. Why they are there at first is a bit of a mystery and with each reveal their story gets more heartbreaking. It’s done so well and there’s such elements of grief and frustrating and anger and rage. They’re a tight family but they’re also broken. I thought Ben and Jessica were really much more than they were initially presented to be – Jessica an instagram wannabe who had sculpted her looks, unaware of the only person that didn’t find it an improvement was her own husband. And Ben, obsessed with his car always going on about the damn car, it’s just a car Ben (ok it’s a very expensive car but still). But the further I got into it, the more I appreciated their story as well and the stresses of what had changed their lives. Lars seems shallow at first but develops hidden depths (his choice of career) and Tony evolves as well. Probably Carmel is the character I felt got the least amount of attention and grew the least during the stay and her story was the least interesting to me.

But for me, this book escalates into the complete weird and I have issues with it, because I don’t think it fully dealt with the consequences of its own storyline. It’s very difficult to talk about without spoiling also, but I felt as though there was this big “thing” that happens and everyone is furious and then they are just…not. And there’s a lot of glossed over stuff at the end which really minimises the invasive exploitation of people’s trust. I also found a lot of the scenes during this portion of the book quite heavy handed – Frances’ in particular! Perhaps because she’s a romance author and Liane Moriarty is an author, it just seemed like it was a lot of unloading on the industry and it didn’t feel at all subtle. There were some funny moments but a lot of it I just read feeling a bit awkward, like I’d walked into the middle of someone’s private rant. I also have no way of knowing if any of these experiences the characters go through are realistic (and I’m not going to find out, because that’s just not something I’m interested in) but they all seemed so pointed. I was really quite annoyed at the way some of the characters were quite rightfully outraged at the abuse of their trust but then it just…..faded into nothing? I mean it probably became obvious that there were some serious issues going on with the person controlling everything behind the scenes but it just came off a bit clunky for me, like it was okay in the end because they magically dealt with their issues.

As a conversation piece? This book is brilliant. There’s so much to talk about – and I’ve had two good conversations about it already. It’s great for book clubs, great for people who really enjoy picking a book to pieces (and I don’t mean that in a negative way, in a way that analyses everything that happens in great detail) and those who like to mull over everything and savour it. Because Liane Moriarty is clever – really clever. She’s great with characters, she’s great at drawing you into a story. There’s a reason I read this in an afternoon, even with my nitpicky issues with some of it. Because even though it starts a bit slowly, there’s a period of investment in these characters (particularly the Marconis for me, that story is utter perfection). But I didn’t care about all of them and at times I found Frances, who seems to be the ‘main’ one, even though there are numerous characters who all narrate, quite tiring. I feel as though the book really nailed the whole retreat thing but then just took it that step further and it was weird, but not……without some grounding in possibility. Dangerous as all heck though. I wasn’t overly sure about the character of Masha in the end. I felt as though that downward spiral might’ve been a bit rapid but that’s just me. It felt like the first part of the book was, as I said, very slow, but then the end of the book had a disjointed and rushed feeling which may have been deliberate, to emphasise the ordeal the characters were going through. I kind of think that a few characters could’ve probably been trimmed in order to spend more time on the ones remaining – although yes, I know she does characters well, there were a few that probably could’ve vanished from the narrative and it honestly wouldn’t have made any difference to the story. And it would’ve given more time to focus on other characters, including the one that I think did need it, which was Masha.

But….it’s not my favourite book from Liane Moriarty. It might not even be in my top 3. And that’s interesting because I feel there are so many authors out there where you love each new book even more than the previous. And this isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the reading experience – I did, but it was a very up and down experience. There were times when my attention wandered a bit early on, there were times later in the piece where I was invested but the weirdness of the way the story and I ended up with more questions than answers at times, and a vague sense of dissatisfaction about some of the resolution. However I’ve no doubt that it’ll be made into a TV show or a movie and it’ll probably be very good – it is a story that might be well suited to a visual depiction. I find it a bit hard to rate it, because I didn’t love it. Didn’t dislike it. Read it really quickly but not super intensely…..however the thing that I think tips it for me is that it’s a book you can discuss endlessly. There honestly is so much to talk about and pore over and it’s one of the things I enjoy most about reading. So.

7/10

Book #169 of 2018

 

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2 responses to “Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

  1. Marg says:

    I’m not sure i’m in any hurry to read this one. I think I’ve been burned by her last book which I didnt particularly enjoy.

    • Yeah, look I can’t say you must rush out and read it asap. It’s….interesting, I think, is the most I can say about it. There’s a lot of conversation-starters. But it definitely doesn’t have the same compelling tone as several of her previous novels. I didn’t dislike TMG as much as some others did but I wouldn’t say this is a better book.

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