Today I’m pleased to share with you my review of a book I greatly enjoyed.
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty is set in the idyllic landscape of New South Wales, Australia. The TV adaptation appeared on our screens in 2021 as a TV mini series starring Nicole Kidman and shifted the action to the USA instead of Australia.
I picked this book out from a lending library in a Sunshine Coast holiday resort in Queensland. I began reading it and couldn’t stop. The premise immediately appealed to me, and reminded me of my own novel A Passionate Spirit, in which a beautiful and charismatic woman with a mysterious background takes over a creative/healing centre. She too, like the character Masha, played by Nicole Kidman, starts to convince people she has the answer to all their problems. Of course Liane Moriarty guides her story in a very different direction from the one I choose in A Passionate Spirit. Nine Perfect Strangers becomes even more fascinating for me, as I consider the numerous ways in which one could indeed develop this simple premise: nine people gather at a remote health resort.
Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever?
These nine perfect strangers are about to find out…
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 ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten 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 at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.
I loved this story of a group of characters who all check in to a supposed healing retreat in a beautiful rural location in New South Wales. The author makes considerable use of the Australian landscape with many details of wildlife and terrain, so the creators of the TV mini series did need to make some changes here. Also there is a strong reference to ‘one of those outback serial killers’ which has a very specific resonance in Australia. Liane Moriarty gives us a picture of each person at the retreat, both guests and staff: their background, and why they are there.
The main protagonist Frances, formerly bestselling author, is a very attractive character and I liked her enormously. The book is often very funny and also hugely perceptive in its observations of human psychology. As I read about the issues of some of the people who’ve booked into this retreat I couldn’t help thinking, ‘She’s got my number’ and identifying with many of the author’s observations.
The leader of the retreat, Masha, intrigued me. She is mysterious, of Russian origin, and very beautiful. She reminded me of a character I created in my own novel, Natasha, who also promises healing and wholeness, and is enchantingly lovely – and both my character Natasha, and Liane Moriarty’s charismatic healer Masha, float around in long white silk dresses. Masha is played by Nicole Kidman in the TV drama series of this novel, and I believe Nicole plays her very well.
I began by liking Masha, and feeling her objectives and methods are perfectly understandable and valid, if she is going to fulfill her claim of transforming people’s lives in ten days. For this to happen, a retreat leader would need to be highly focused and committed but also bring people alongside her.
However, later, we learn new things about Masha, and she becomes more and more crazed, desperate, and starts employing what some might consider ‘unethical’ methods. Techniques she uses include deprivation of freedom, food, and light; and playing disturbing mind-games with her guests, which might even threaten their sanity. The book is classified on Amazon as a medical thriller. Masha’s methods would certainly not be approved by the laws of the land, in the UK, or in the USA, or in Australia!
Initially, Masha plans things that make sense to us. She is a wellness instructor, we think: she might be tough, but this is indeed what needs to happen to help people face their issues and change their lives. Later, however, she steps over the line. Then, we discover her background. The clues lie in Russia and its well-known history over the past century.
The guests are being put to the test; they are being pushed beyond their comfort zone. This is fair enough, we decide; but as the story progresses and tension rises, they are mocked, tricked, played with, deceived, to the point where they are told: “This evening, you will face your own mortality.” To be honest, if I was at this retreat and heard the leader say that, I’d think she was going to kill me.
As Masha proceeds with her over-the-top solutions for life-change, she alternates between condescending unctuousness and unbridled rage. She justifies herself with the very convenient statement, “Only you can set yourself free.” What she metes out to her guests eventually becomes psychological torture. Meltdown, terror and farce lie ahead. But the author presents us finally with some very surprising, and often teasing, outcomes for all our hopeful guests seeking life-transformation.
Do look this book out: I highly recommend it!
If you are attracted by the premise of life-transformation in a healing retreat, and you enjoy reading ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ why not try ‘A Passionate Spirit’ by SC Skillman too? Only £1.99 to download on your kindle on Amazon UK.
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