Next Friday is the first day of winter, and it certainly still feels like fall this weekend, with mild weather, no snow, and clear skies. I have a steaming cup of chai tea, a delicious Date Bar, and a piece of homemade shortbread to get me thinking about the book I read this past week.
Nine perfect strangers walk into a health resort… no, this is not the opening line of a joke, it’s the premise for Liane Moriarty’s latest book, Nine Perfect Strangers, and it was definitely an enjoyable read. Told from various points of view, this novel centres around a ten-day luxury health and wellness retreat at Tranquillium House attended by nine different people from various parts of Australia who all have certain personal issues to deal with. The main character, if you could call her the “main” character (could this be Moriarty herself?), is Frances, a novelist in her early 50s who writes romance novels, but whose latest book got turned down by her publishers. She’s recently had a relationship breakup and is dealing with symptoms of menopause, so she takes her sister’s advice and books herself into this ten-day retreat. Lars is a handsome, successful lawyer who enjoys attending two retreats each year. Ben and Jessica are a young couple who are experiencing relationship issues and have booked themselves on this retreat to try to save their marriage. Tony is a retired footballer who has booked himself in to this retreat to learn to make healthier lifestyle choices. Carmel, also in her early 50s, is attending this retreat while her daughters are away with their father and his new wife on a trip to Europe. Heather, her husband (whose name I can’t remember and I’ve already brought the book back to the library so I can’t check), and their 20-year-old daughter Zoe appear to be in perfect health and mental state, but they must have some personal issues to work through, or why would they be here? But things are not as they seem, and the reader senses that something sinister is taking place even as the characters are experiencing the rejuvenation and personal transformation that was promised. I don’t want to give anything more away, because the enjoyment for me was the way this novel unfolded and revealed itself, section by section. It was definitely not what I expected, with over-the-top plot twists, and characters that were somewhat clichéd, yet I think it worked. It reminded me of Agatha Christie’s mysteries, particularly And Then There Were None, and I thought, “Hmmm, this is certainly nothing like her other books”. But then I thought about it more and decided that, while the setting is different, and the plot or motivating device (can I call it the McGuffin?) is also different, the exploration into characters to discover that individuals are more complex than they at first appear, and the exploration into different relationships, as well as the handling of difficult issues in a compassionate, sensitive way, while still managing to inject humour into her novel, is all Moriarty. This was definitely an improvement on her last book, Truly, Madly, Guiltily, and let’s face it, after her bestsellers The Husband’s Secret and her biggest hit, Big Little Lies, I'm sure there would be great pressure to follow up with something just as brilliant, which would be difficult to do. I can see how this might not be to everyone’s taste, and it’s definitely over-the-top, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and had a hard time putting it down each night. If you have never read any of Moriarty’s books, I would recommend starting with The Husband’s Secret or Big Little Lies, but if you are a seasoned reader, this will likely not disappoint.
That’s all for today. Get outside and enjoy the mild weather!Bye for now…