Nine Perfect Strangers was not a book I intended to pick up. The idea of a novel this long set at a health resort sounded tedious to me. But after seeing the trailer for the Hulu series, I found myself intrigued. I enjoyed another of Moriarty’s books, Big Little Lies, and it was also a story whose premise did nothing for me, so I decided to give Nine Perfect Strangers a try. I’m glad I did, because it ended up being one of the best non-fantasy novels I’ve read all year. I was honestly incredibly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying this book.
As I mentioned above, our setting is a health resort. I’m not generally a fan of spas as a setting, but this one had a few things going for it: it’s housed in a converted historic home in Australia, and the treatments are uniquely tailored and often cutting-edge. But what really drew me into the story were the characters. We have the titular strangers who come to the resort at the same time for a 10 day cleanse, all of them looking to revamp their lives in different ways for radically different reasons. Then we have the owner of the resort and her two aides. All twelve of these people are perspective characters, and the narrative cycles through their points of view.
Moriarty does a great job diving deep into the psyches of her characters and making them feel multifaceted and three-dimensional during their perspective chapters. The balance of this with how the same characters seem almost like caricatures through the eyes of the rest of the cast is an interesting, and compelling, one. By the midpoint of the novel, every single person felt real and absolutely believable to me. There was one major exception, but I think they were supposed to be an exception. I loved seeing how all of these characters grew and changed by the end of the book, and how they stayed the same. And I didn’t really expect to care.
This story is also a look at the dangers of playing God with the lives of others, and how that can negatively impact those people even when you technically get the results you want. It also showed how, no matter how tightly you try to control things, people are unpredictable and can always find a way to worm free that you didn’t anticipate. People can always surprise you, especially when you truly believe you have them all figured out. They’re also resilient, even when they don’t believe they are.
There came a point in the story where the narrative could have gone completely off the rails as the plot suddenly veered from its trajectory up to that point. But, to stick with the metaphor, Moriarty kept things on track with both finesse and a firm grip. Even at its wildest, you could tell she had the story completely under control. I don’t want to go into detail, as I found this portion of the book impact because it caught me so off guard, but it was definitely surprising. There was a bit of a fourth-wall break that was jarring but fascinating. That entire segment of the story was really weird, but I was hanging on every word. This is where to book went from a 4 star read to a solid 5 stars.
I didn’t see how following the growth of these characters during their time at a health resort could possibly be that interesting. It didn’t sound like there was going to be much plot. Turns out I was wrong. The story ended up being far, far twistier than I expected. While it was a bit slow to start as groundwork was laid, even then I was never bored. But after about two hundred pages, I was hooked. There were surprise revelations being thrown out even in the very last pages.
Nine Perfect Strangers is not a typical read for me. But I’m so glad I decided to give it a try. I guess should thank Hulu, since the ad for the show is what drew my attention to it in the first place. After having enjoyed both this book and Big Little Lies far more than I anticipated, I’m very interested in reading more of Moriarty’s work.
You can purchase the book from: Blackwells | Bookshop.org (Support Independent Bookstores) | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Audible | Libro.fm (Another way to support independent bookstores!) | Book Depository (Free shipping)