Book Review: “Nine Perfect Strangers” by Liane Moriarty (@panmacmillan @EasternRegional)

Nine Perfect Strangers (Pan Macmillan Australia, 2018) by Liane Moriart

To review Liane Moriarty’s books is difficult, not just because the New York Times bestseller’s writing is nearly perfect. It’s also because she’s a perfect writer in the eyes of many readers in Australia and overseas.

Furthermore, it feels strange to review Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Stranger (2018) when the novel’s adaptation as a streaming television miniseries happens to have premiered this month. As all eyes focus on Australian actresses Nicole Kidman, Asher Keddie and Samara Weaving, it seems hard to divert anyone’s attention back to plain words on paper.

But words matter, functioning as windows to the souls of a novel’s characters. In the case of those seeking “total transformation” promised by the health and wellness resort Tranquillum House in Nine Perfect Strangers, the character building process is lengthy but rewarding, revealing how they perceive others as well as themselves.

Perhaps the quote from American comedian and author George Carlin at the start of the novel offers a clue: “Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it.” Every time we think we understand each character’s mindset and why they behave the way they are, Moriarty offers a surprising plot twist and our self-righteous assumptions are thrown out the window.

Moriarty leads us down the multiple memory lanes, slowly divulging the life-changing moments in each character’s past and the curious circumstances forcing those choices and decisions that they now regret. They now seek “to be transformed, to be someone else, to be someone better” – to leave Tranquillum House feeling “happier, healthier, lighter, freer” as described by their host, the mysterious Masha.

As Masha employs a series of “unconventional methods” to invigorate their tired bodies and minds, these characters realise they’re not just “perfect strangers” to each other but also to themselves. Indeed, part of the pleasure of reading Nine Perfect Strangers is to see how some of the characters are shocked to realise who they truely are.

The journey of self-discovery is particularly thrilling when some other characters turn out to be far from whom they are thought to be. As the group dynamics change, each has to deal with their own demons in their struggles to survive. All we can do as readers is to go through the mental and emotional rollercoasters while hoping everything will be alright in the end.

It’s often said that easy reading is damn hard writing. In this sense, Nine Perfect Strangers is a perfect example of a writer knowing exactly what her goals are and how they should be achieved. The writing is witty and full of compassion, fluent and sometimes fierce, and often tedious in a highly realistic way. We see ourselves in these characters, who are much, much more than the nine words listed on the novel’s cover – shame, guilt, loss, grief, privilege, insecurity, addiction, identity, and love. We ourselves are much more than these.

Kindly read the novel before watching the streaming television miniseries. You’d be surprised by their different approaches to helping you “know thyself”.

Note: This book review was originally published under the title of “Perfect writing brings Nine Perfect Strangers together” Ranges Trader Star Mail, August 31, 2021, P.10.

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