Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Much like Kate Morton, I live for Liane Moriarty books. I read Big Little Lies first a few years ago and from there, it was a very quick landslide working my way through the rest of her novels. Moriarty is the absolute queen of ‘domestic drama’, creating that sub-genre almost single-handedly. I love the mystery that surrounds each of her characters, their demons slowly unveiled as the story goes on. Liane’s writing is uncomplicated and completely consuming and with each of her books, once I started it was hard to not just hunker down for the day and read it from cover to cover. Though Nine Perfect Strangers certainly sucked me in like all of its predecessors, I have to admit that this one was a bit of a miss for me.
Much like my experience with The Clockmaker’s Daughter, I found that Nine Perfect Strangers could have used some tightening up (and some culling of pages). The book diverges from Liane’s usual domestic setting and takes place at a health resort ‘Tranquilum House’. Nine strangers all head to the retreat, located in rural Australia, to better themselves in one way or the other. Each of the attendees has a past (don’t we all?) that they are seeking to make peace with. Pretty quickly though, the group realises that something is amiss with both the retreat itself and the founder of Tranquilum House.
I will admit that I was a bit hesitant (but intrigued) that the story was not in her usual suburban setting and unfortunately for me, I was right to have felt that way. Many other reviewers out there really enjoyed the fact that the backdrop for the story was different to her usual, however I felt that this was the biggest downfall of the novel. So much of Moriarty’s strength lies in the conviction and descriptions of suburbia and the women, families and children who inhabit there. When I read both Big Little Lies and Truly, Madly, Guilty I was whisked back to my days in primary school, fondly remembering Mum picking my brother and I up every afternoon and the weekends spent by the pool of one of the other schoolyard mums and her three boys. So for me, without that signature solid baseline that I have come to expect from Moriarty, the story was already missing something.
None of the characters felt relatable to me, personally. Having said that, there was an incredible range of demographics amongst the characters which I appreciated and although none of them ‘spoke to me’ personally, I can see why many other readers out there would have loved it. Because I was not emotionally invested in the story or its players, I did find myself reading it at some points just to get through it.
Another thing that Moriarty has come to be known for is the way she draws out the core mystery and secret of the story; it is her ability to keep readers on the edge of their seats that has seen her shoot to international stardom. In all of her other books, I was hypnotised until the last page, always waiting for that extra plot twist (that always delivered). I found that the twist was revealed far too early, and when it was, it was both not terribly shocking and not plausible. Every other book of Moriarty’s feels so real, their conflicts and events have always been plausible and extremely ‘real’ whereas in Nine Perfect Strangers, I found it to be completely farfetched and, dare I say it, a little bit too fictitious. I just didn’t buy it, people. When the big reveal was made I actually said, “Really? That’s it?” out loud. Following the unveiling of the big mystery, the scenario that the characters then found themselves in was even more ‘out there’ and improbable that I found myself completely disinterested and just wanted to get through the rest of the book (which I cannot believe I am even saying about one of Liane Moriarty’s books).
Maybe that’s why I wasn’t such a fan of this one, because I can’t help but compare it to her previous books. Perhaps if this was a stand-alone release from an author who isn’t Moriarty, I would be more accepting of the things I wasn’t too keen on with this release. Unfortunately though, I have come to expect a certain calibre of chilling, psychological suspense from her books which this one, for me, just simply didn’t deliver on, far from it actually.
To put it simply, I really did not enjoy this book (at all), but it won’t stop me from reading her future books because she is, and I am hoping will continue to be, an extremely talented author.
And also, the title ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ is a bit misleading now that I think about it. Of the nine people that attend the retreat, there is a family of three and then another couple. So really the title should be, A Family of Three, a Couple and Four Perfect Strangers.