Berkshire Eagle Book Club

Our reviews: 'Nine Perfect Strangers'

Posted

The Book: "Nine Perfect Strangers," by Liane Moriarty

Publisher: Flatiron Books; First Edition edition (Nov. 6, 2018)

The Synopsis: Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can't even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these 10 days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next 10 days are going to be. Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She's immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don't look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn't even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer - or should she run while she still can? It's not long before every guest is asking exactly the same question.

When it was announced "Nine Perfect Strangers" by Liane Moriarty was going to be our next book club selection, I was excited. I read her "Big Little Lies" in a weekend last summer and really enjoyed it. Some 500 pages later, all I can say is, why? Why was "Nine Perfect Strangers" so long, why was it so uneventful? Why did it have nine strangers and not four? Five fewer people would have worked for me. Moriarty is noted for her character development — delving into their past and probing what makes them tick. Honestly, after 200 pages, I knew them as well as I wanted to and after 400 pages, before any action ("a twist") took place, I was ready to scream. The ending was pretty predictable and the updates on the characters down the road were totally unnecessary.

Take any of the criticism leveled at romance writer Frances about her novels in the book and apply it to "Nine Perfect Strangers." Run, don't walk, to the next book on your reading list and skip this one.

— Margaret Button, associate features editor

Liane Moriarty is an apparently talented writer, given the popularity of her previous books, but there is no evidence of it here. On the cover, this book is apparently a thriller, following nine people who all sign up for a week at the same health resort, only to discover all is not as it appears. This book is also not what it appears. In fact, the book isn't about nine strangers at a health resort. It's a hoax. It's Liane Moriarty using 450 pages to clap back to criticism directed at her previous work, by ... writing the shoddiest book she could. She wrote a book that deliberately failed in all of the ways she has been called out on before, using an obvious and over-the-top surrogate in the character of failing romance novelist Frances. Was this book her tongue-in-cheek way of telling critics, "I am what I am, and I'm not going to change?" Given the wildly varying reviews of this book, it's clear she didn't keep things the same. Criticism poor Frances suffered: At least the pacing's OK: Fair enough, "Nine Perfect Strangers" is a fast read. Obvious romantic subplot: Yup. Nobody dies: I can't even with this. Not feminist enough: This is a much longer discussion, that I'm not sure flatters Moriarty at all. This book has convinced me not to read "Big Little Lies," or any of her previous books, despite the praise. Since I've previously told you to to "AVOID" a book, this time I'll borrow from the lovely Margaret Button: Don't. Waste. Your. Time.

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— Meggie Baker, calendar editor

For a story with nearly 12 main point-of-view characters, Liane Moriarty does a remarkable job keeping the reader engaged by divulging information and background on each of them in delicious bite-sized chunks. The novel is told almost in a one shot timeline, which helps in following the various storylines and reveals as they come. The story enticed me in with some brilliant interior monologue from the sort-of protagonist, but didn't really hook me until all nine guests were in the retreat and the faintest sense of dread started creeping into almost every interaction, both between the guests and the staff of Tranquillum House. The interpersonal relationships between the guests and their secrets were interesting enough, but the idea that this setting was more than meets the eye was what kept me ripping through pages. I'd never read Moriarty before, and have not seen any of "Big Little Lies." I didn't fully know what to expect when opening "Nine Perfect Strangers," with its colorful, ribbony smoke cover, so I likely wound up imprinting my own preferences into the outcome of the story. That said, I found the big reveal and ending somewhat disappointing. I wasn't elatedly cheering. Nor was I laying on my couch, gutted. There were, however, numerous twists and turns throughout that had me audibly shouting to an empty room. Keep an open mind, and let Moriarty weave you through the lives of 12 different people, all with varying wants, needs, peeves and secrets. Even if the landing doesn't stick, you'll have a fun time trying to open all the doors at Tranquillum House.

— Mike Walsh, sports reporter

Sigh. That's what I do every time I think about "Nine Perfect Strangers," a book, as a fan of Liane Moriarity's other books, I had been waiting to read. The early fan reviews were fabulous, so when it finally had its turn on our book club's reading list, I scooped up a copy at the Adams Free Library. I settled in, only to find myself trapped at a wellness spa overcrowded with characters (some who were forgettable, too similar to one another or just cliches) and subplots that were plentiful and pointless. A few of the characters were well developed, as is her style, but they were bogged down by meticulous details of spa rules and routines, as well as second-tier characters who kept them from being appealing. Billed as a psychological thriller, the book fails to live up to that promise. By the time the book delved into that genre, I couldn't have cared less if the characters were transformed by their 10-day spa stay or even survived it. Overall, it reminded me of a poorly executed young adult novel that tries to do too much in the last 100 pages of the book.

— Jennifer Huberdeau, UpCountry Magazine editor

As an early adopter to Liane Moriarity's fast-paced style with twisting plots ("Big Little Lies" hooked me hard and fast over a week-long vacation two years ago), I couldn't wait to read her latest work. Yes, Moriarty is formulaic. Yes, she likes too many subplots and internal monologues — these things I've come to expect and love for what they are: fun, easy reads. But this book was a big thud for me — the kind of thud a 450-page book makes when you keep putting it down because you just don't care. There were moments when the old Moriarity shoved through the multiple characters — bits of important background information dropped at the end of the chapter, making you want to read more; a major twist near the end that had me generally worried for the guests — but then it all turned out to be for nothing. At one point, Tranquillum House's deranged director Masha whines that the guests aren't taking her, or the program, seriously, that the stakes aren't high enough for them. Funny enough, the stakes weren't high enough throughout the whole book, making me ask myself more than once, who cares?

Lindsey Hollenbaugh, managing editor of features


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