What did I just read? No, please–someone tell me what I just read. What was the genre? What was the point? I need an explanation. A confused three stars.

“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.

Combining all of the hallmarks that have made her writing a go-to for anyone looking for wickedly smart, page-turning fiction that will make you laugh and gasp, Liane Moriarty’s
Nine Perfect Strangers once again shows why she is a master of her craft.”

(Publisher synopsis via Goodreads )

I picked up Nine Perfect Strangers because I absolutely loved HBO’s miniseries based on another novel of hers, Big Little Lies. Rather than read BLL when I know the story, I figured I would try out Moriarty’s latest novel, which I kept seeing on shelves. I was expecing something similar in style and tone.

This was… not what I was expecting. More importantly, I’m not really sure what it was. It wasn’t exactly a thriller… but it had some thriller-like elements. I wouldn’t describe it as mystery or suspense either, though I see those terms applied to it a lot. I guess you could call it a character portrait, but there were way too many characters and not enough of a coherent point of view for that to make sense. It was just a long book with a lot of words and I’m not entirely sure what the point was. I’m guessing it was a lot more edifying to write than enjoyable for me to read.

“I don’t know what the point was” is probably one of the worst reactions to have to a novel, so this could have easily been a two-star read for me. The middle 70% was certianly a two-star experience. The book is so long and so mind-numbingly repetitive. Most of the middle was devoted to rehashing the same observations and tensions as we jumped between the minds of the twelve POV characters.

TWELVE. TWELVE POV CHARACTERS. It wasn’t in first person, but still. That is excessive.

But I gave it the third star because a few elements were so outstanding I couldn’t ignore them. I adore the prose–it is every bit as funny and clever and sharply observant as I’ve heard. And while the characters are overwhelming, they are carefully, lovingly drawn with nuance. While several characters were familiar and a little flat, most of them were complex, lovable (though not always likable) people that I didn’t feel like I’d seen before.

Several of the characters–namely romance writer Frances, the married couples, and the director of the retreat house–were enormously compelling and could have made great protagonists in some other story. Unfortunately, I found the pretext for bringing them together extremely cheap. To me, forcing them to stay together at a retreat then eliciting emotional revalation with drugs isn’t a story, it’s what this book has instead of a story.

All together, I’m giving this one three stars because the characterization and prose are so undeniably great that I can’t overlook them, even in the face of a repetitive non-story. As much as I liked the BLL show, I don’t think I’ll be coming back to Moriarty.

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