This book was a trip.
Nine Perfect Strangers is definitely the kind of story better told from multiple-points of view. My complaint? It started in the wrong place. It should have opened with Frances going to Tranquillum House, rather than with the antagonist’s backstory. The reason? The way the prologue is written, we’re an observer, but with Frances, we’re a participant.
I found most of the characters interesting enough to have their own POVs, but Masha was such an unsympathetic character, she could’ve remained in the third-person. Even her backstory didn’t change how I felt about her. Sometimes, it’s best to leave a little to the imagination, and let the reader get to know a character the way they would get to know someone in real life–a little bit at a time without being privy to their thoughts.
I found the characters of Frances, the Marconi family, and Ben and Jessica the most interesting as they had the most intriguing stories as to why they were willing to go to this spa to be “transformed.”
I think Jessica, in particular, even though she was basically a plastic Instagram “star,” had some great insights about what happens when you go “from Prada to nada”–when you’re so busy working to try to make ends meet that you don’t have time to worry about anything else, but when you don’t have to worry about survival, you start to wonder if you are a good person (meaning, are you giving enough?).
What’s more, I think Jessica represents a lot of the under-40 generation when it comes to social media–that it’s like it didn’t really happen if it wasn’t posted. Sometimes, I think these millennials wouldn’t do half the things they do if it wasn’t for social media, so maybe it gets them to actually do more. At the very least, social media has encouraged people to become better photographers, as everyone’s a brand now.
The lesson I learned from the fractured Marconi family is that you have to remember a person for how they lived, not just how they died. When you can separate the two, the memories of a person can bring smiles without tears.
I apply that same principle to this book: The journey was much better than the destination. After the resolution, the chapters went from multiple pages to a paragraph. It was like the author lost interest because the conflict had been resolved.
The only “catharsis” that didn’t make sense was Lars’s–why he didn’t want to have kids wasn’t explored deep enough (though such was the case with Frances; with her, I believe she just saw time with kids as time away from her writing). I felt there was a much deeper for Lars’s aversion to starting a family with his partner, but it was never developed.
Carmel was the least interesting, yet the most annoying character. She reminded me of one of those liberals who would not defend themselves (or their family) from a crazed gunman because they were “against violence.” Her deal? She had body-image issues. I say, who cares?
Amazingly, even though there were a lot of characters, there were all so well-defined, I was able to keep up with them with ease.
The story was a bit far fetched, but I’ve never minded that–it’s only when people come across as too far fetched (i.e. Masha) when it takes away from the story.
As for the final chapters, Chapter 78 was cute but unnecessary; it made me think (rather cheekily) that Ms. Moriarty wishes unfortunate events on people who leave bad reviews of her books. I also have no idea who Chapter 79 was supposed to be about. Frances, perhaps? What’s more, I thought the device of speaking to the reader directly (and not even as one of the characters) takes one out of the story, reminding the reader that what we read was just a story. Such a narration device is better suited for stage plays.
For 22 pages, there are several mini-epilogues ranging from one week to five years later. Ms. Moriarty should’ve just stuck with “five years later” and turned it into an epilogue with a reunion of the nine discussing what became of the antagonist.
The beginning and the end of this book weren’t all that great, but the middle was fascinating enough to make up for it, with the “Hunger Games-like” plot device (which showed how bull!@#$ corporate-speak is) and the bizarro spa practices.
Though I don’t think all Ms. Moriarty’s books are winners, they are certainly interesting to read. The plots are always fun, and for the most part, her characters are real and flawed and loveable.
That’s why I will keep reading her books, for character(s) matter.