Nine Perfect Strangers

By Liane Moriarty, Nine people at a very odd getaway

Hulu Series Adaptation
Brief Summary
Detailed Summary
Read it or Skip It?

A friend of mine wanted to read Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty, so I offered to read it with her.

I read The Husband’s Secret by the same author a long time ago, but I hadn’t been particularly enthusiastic about it, so hadn’t been planning on revisiting Moriarty’s writing.

But Big Little Lies has been so huge and Nicole Kidman is planning an adaptation of Nine Perfect Strangers, so I figured as long as I would have someone to discuss it with anyway, I might as well give it a shot.

Nicole Kidman with Liane Moriarty

Nicole Kidman with Liane Moriarty

Plot Summary

For the Detailed Plot Summary, click here or scroll all the way down.

Nine people gather at the Tranquillum House Resort for a 10-day wellness retreat, run by a former businesswoman named Masha. While these strangers get to know each other and grapple with their own issues, they start to have questions about what exactly is going on at this retreat.

See Nine Perfect Strangers on Amazon.

Book Review

I had low expectations for this book. As I said in the beginning, I only read it because my friend was looking for a reading buddy. When I started it, I was sort of skimming the pages, trying to read it as quickly as possible so I could cross it off my list and get on to the rest of my to-do list.

But once the characters started crystalizing in my mind and a few lines made me think a little deeper than I was expecting, I found myself taking my time and letting the story roll around in my head.

The book is very simple in terms of the plot. These people show up to a 10-day wellness retreat, you get to know them, they participate in retreat activities and in the process there are a number of revelations about each of the characters.

They’re a great cast of characters, and I was more interested in these characters’ journeys than I was expecting. In some ways, this is more like 5 or 6 individual stories that just happen to occur at the same place.

In this grouping of strangers, there’s a grieving family, a young couple trying to save their marriage and a health-resort junkie. Plus, there’s a handful of singletons dealing with things like regret over the past, shame or just trying to change their lives. Through their sprinkling of stories, Moriarty tells stories about self-acceptance, about forgiveness, about healing and about moving on and moving forward.

Liane Moriarty has a keen grasp of the nuances that lie in between the interactions people have with each other, and tries hard to pry at the less obvious emotions or gradations that color people’s emotions. Moriarty digs into their vulnerabilities and dredges out truths in ways that feels insightful and hopeful. From the loss of a child, to struggling with divorces and heartbreak, to overcoming their fears and insecurities, Nine Perfect Strangers tackles all these topics, often with a smart mix of gravity, levity and humor.

Book Review: Criticism Slash the Bad Stuff

The last third of the book goes a little off the rails for a very long stretch. I won’t give away anything, but there’s a lengthy section where not very much is happening and to the extent that stuff is happening, it’s just kind of weird and not in interesting way. It also gets a little repetitive, hammering in points it previously made about the various characters.

When the “mystery” of what’s going is unraveled, it’s not a good mystery. I don’t know if I’d even consider it a mystery. It’s more like just something that doesn’t make a lot of sense so it’s mysterious in that sense. It’s mysteriously nonsensical.

I had such conflicted feelings during this book. There were parts that were so poignant and touching and incisive where my heart broke for these characters or I found myself smiling as I read this book. Then, there were parts where I thought this book was so stupid and insane that I couldn’t stop looking down to check how many pages were left.

There’s two main aspects that don’t work. First, the attempt to introduce an element of mystery and suspense into the premise is ham-fisted at best to put it nicely. (At worst, it’s a cynical ploy to generate more sales since mysteries and thrillers are popular right now.) It makes the book much “weirder” and didn’t add to the plot or meaning or substance. If anything, it detracted from the good parts of the book by making it hard to take it seriously.

Second, the attempt to bind these stories together and make it seem unified (e.g. the “team-building” exercise portion of the retreat) when they are really separate stories was not effective or interesting. I also don’t think it was necessary. The Love, Actually format of storytelling where a movie/book is telling separate stories that only intersect tangentially works just fine. Trying so hard to bring all the stories together isn’t needed and didn’t work.

Lastly, I’ll add that I think Liane writes much better female characters than male characters. Lars especially was a little unrealistic, both in terms of how he reacted to his parents divorce and what his character arc ends up being.

The other male characters were okay, but in general it seems (predictably) obvious that Moriarty has deeper insight into the intricacies of the female mind than that of their male counterparts.

Nine Perfect Strangers Audiobook Review (Not Recommended)

I listened to part of this on audiobook, but it wasn’t one of the better ones I’ve heard. I had a bit of a long drive so I stuck with it, so in that case it was better than not reading anything, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

The voice actress’s narration is just ok, maybe sometimes a little irritating. She voices most of the dialogue of the women in a high whiny voice that drove me a little nuts. The acting also leaves something to be desired as well, so some of the emotional parts of the book feel a little cringey.

Oh, and she goes completely nuts with her Russian accent. Every section that’s from Masha’s point of view is done with a Russian accent, and it gets old, fast. It also doesn’t make sense, since she doesn’t use character voicings for anyone else’s point of view other than Masha.

Nine Perfect Strangers Hulu Adaptation

As mentioned above, there’s an adaptation of Nine Perfect Strangers that’s been ordered by Hulu. It’s currently in development, which means it’s still early on in the process. Kidman is producing it and working with David E. Kelley, who she also worked with to get Big Little Lies to the small screen. In addition to producing, Kidman will play the resort director Masha in the limited series adaptation.

For all the details, see Everything We Know About the Nine Perfect Strangers Hulu Limited Series.

Read it or Skip it?

If you’re curious about the mystery element to this book’s synopsis, then skip this. Any “suspenseful” or “mysterious” elements to the plot are, well, going to be a huge letdown.

What this book does well, however, is tell six different stories about self-acceptance, about forgiveness, about healing and about moving on and moving forward and things like that. That is the reason to show up to this book, and I think for many people that will be enough, even with any flaws, for it to be worth their time.

It’s an un-cynical story that reminds all its readers that it’s okay to struggle sometimes, and it’s better to ask for and get help if you need it.

There were parts where I felt a little frustrated by the kookiness of the story (or perhaps the silly framework masquerading as a story), but I did feel genuinely moved at some parts. I was rooting for all these characters (well, maybe not Masha) and overall I got enough out of the book to feel like it wasn’t a wasted effort.

What do you think? Have you read this or are you planning on reading this? See Nine Perfect Strangers on Amazon.


Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)

Chapter 1

Yao, a trainee paramedic, tries to help a stressed out businesswoman, Masha. Other people keep interrupting, she has a cardiac arrest and is carried out.

Ten Years Later

Chapters 2 - 5

Frances Welty, a romance novelist, has been having back pain. She knows it is psychosomatic. She's on her way to 10-day getaway to Tranquillum House, a boutique health and wellness resort. She is twice divorced and currently going through another breakup. She pulls over when she feels a back spasm coming on. A man offers her assistance, which she refuses. Her agent Alain calls to tell her he's having trouble selling her book. There was a scathing review of her books published recently as well.

Lars Lee is a health-retreat junkie. He stops off at a vineyard before he heads into Tranquillum house.

Ben and Jessica Chandler are a young married couple. Their marriage has been rocky. Jessica wanted to come, but Ben did not. And he's concerned that the dirt road is messing up his Lamborghini. Ben thinks Jessica is too obsessed with social media, appearances and what celebrities are doing. She's been getting a lot of plastic surgery. Things changed between them about two years ago after the robbery, and Ben wonders if this place can fix it.

Chapters 6 - 8

Yao, who is now a personal wellness consultant at Tranquillum. The other wellness consultant is a woman named Delilah. Yao welcomes Frances and gives her a tour. When Frances mentions possibly going home early, and Yao cryptically comments that no one goes home early.

A nurse comes to give Frances a blood test. Yao also tells her that drinking the smoothies are mandatory, and Frances has to have over any electronic devices. When Frances checks her bag, she sees they've removed her "contraband" -- some wine and chocolate -- that she had snuck in.

She gets a message, and tells the masseuse that her back problems started a few weeks ago after a man she had been dating for six months, Paul, asked her for a large amount of money and then ghosted her. Detectives later confirmed he was a scam artist, preying on single older women. He always pretended he had a son, Ari, and that something happened to Ari that he needed money for.

Jan, the masseuse, talks about her own boyfriend Gus and them cryptically warns her about the getaway -- don't do anything you're not comfortable with, she says.

Napoleon Marconi, a tall and chatty man, shows up with his equally tall wife, Heather, and daughter, Zoe.

In their room, Jessica and Ben get settled. Jessica thinks about the robbery of their house that took place two years ago. She had assumed it was Lucy, Ben's addict sister, who had robbed them, but it turned out it wasn't. At the time, they hadn't had much worth stealing. Jessica reads that the first five days of the retreat will be a period of silence, with no talking, reading, writing, touching, etc. They have thirty minutes before it starts, and Jessica hopes Ben will touch her or initiate sex, but he doesn't.

Chapters 9 - 14

Masha (Maria Dmitrichenko) is now the director of Tranquillum House. She goes through the file of the nine clients who are there for the retreat. Frances, Ben, Jessica, Lars, plus the three Marconis. The last two names are Carmel Schneider, a divorced single mother, and Tony Hogburn, a divorced man who is interested in weight loss. Masha wonders why the Marconis are here.

As the group gathers for their first group meditation, Frances sees the man that had stopped to help her. Masha introduces herself to the group.

Napoleon is a schoolteacher with high blood pressure. Heather is a midwife. Zoe, a 20-year-old college student, had suggested they come. Zoe had a twin brother, Zach, who died three years ago and it would have turned 21 during the trip if he had lived. Zoe's parents are now very over-protective, but she puts up with it because she understands they are grieving and in pain.

Frances and Zoe duck outside to chat and get to know one another. Zoe promises to read one of Frances's book, even though she never reads romance novels.

Chapters 15 - 20

In the middle of the night, they all get woken up for the starlight meditation. They see a falling star.

Lars's partner Ray had wanted to join him at the retreat, but Lars had asked him not to. Ray also wanted kids, but Lars said no. Ray's sister Sarah had offered to be a surrogate.

Jessica is thinking about how she'd post about this experience on social media if she had her phone. She thinks back on how Ben's mom had sent them a lottery ticket after they'd been robbed and they won 22 million dollars. It changed their lives, but also changed the people around them. Ben seems dissatisfied with it all and they grew apart.

The next day is a hike, and Heather nearly walks off a cliff but her husband stops her.

Afterwards, Tony's legs are sore. He goes for a swim. Tony is 56. He used to be fit, but no longer. He thinks about his kids who he'd neglected and now he rarely sees. His ex-wife sees them all the time. When they'd finally gotten counseling it was already too late, and she said he'd always took her for granted. He signed up for this retreat to change his life.

Frances goes to swim and he sees Tony, who had asked her if she needed help before. She gets a bloody nose and he helps her with that too.

In her office, Masha surveils all the residents on security cameras and audio equipment in their rooms.

Chapters 21 - 28

Carmel goes to swim and thinks about how her kids are off in Paris with her ex-husband and his new fiance, Sonya. They're on the trip that they'd always talked about, except now she's not there. She's determined to be a good sport about the divorce, and tries to be supportive when talking to her kids, but inside she's full of self-loathing. She knows she should be glad her kids like Sonya, but she's jealous deep down.

Carmel wants to lose weight, and her sister signed her up to the retreat as a gift.

Yao, Delilah and Masha have a staff meeting. Yao was in a personal crisis (broken engagement with a woman named Bernadette, divorcing parents, etc.) and having a depressive episode when Masha asked him to join the staff of her new venture. Working at Tranquillum House saved him.

It's now been four days. Frances has a counseling session with Masha. She ends up asking Masha about herself. Masha shares that she has an ex-husband who she emigrated with from Russia to Australia.

In Carmel's counseling session, Masha pushes her to speak more confidently and walk more confidently. She wants her to be willing to take up space and be seen.

In Tony's session, Masha talks about what it felt like to nearly die when she had the cardiac arrest.

While Napoleon does yoga, he thinks about Zach's death and how it broke his wife. Zach killed himself three years ago and didn't leave a note. Zach was a good kid, but impulsive. Napoleon think that if he had just woken up on time that morning and knocked on Zach's door, perhaps Zach's fleeting impulse would've been prevented.

Zoe meanwhile troubles over the fact that she always tells people she and Zach were never close. When she tells people, they feel relieved since it seems like she will be less upset over his passing. But it bothers her.

Heather feels guilt and rage over Zach's death as well.

Chapters 29 - 30

After the fifth day, the silent period is over. The guests are now welcome to speak to each other freely. They drink smoothies and are invited to introduce themselves to each other.

Then, Lars says he's recognized Tony since day one. Tony is a former footballer named Smiley Hogburn. He has a smiley face tatoo on his butt.

Chapters 31 - 44

Suddenly, Heather realizes that they've laced the smoothies with some type of drug. Masha doesn't deny it, saying they've used micro-dosing of LSD on them. Then, she admits that the latest smoothies were a different, larger dose. Everyone is angry, and they're talking about lawyers, etc.

But they're also soon very high.

Lars thinks about why he has a wall up with his partner Ray. A part of him resents Ray for his happy, loving childhood. Lars's dad left his mom for another woman and was screwed during the divorce settlement. Now Lars works as a divorce (family) lawyer and only represents women in similar situations.

Due to the drugs, Lars sees himself as a little boy. He realizes how much Ray loves him, and that all Ray wants is to be loved.

Frances sees her friend who died last year, plus a bunch of her exes. Frances realizes she didn't care that much about Paul, but she was still heartbroken over Paul's fake son. She had believed that she would be a mother to that boy.

Carmel imagines herself picking out a new body, but ends up going with the ones her kids love, which is her current body.

Zoe sees Zach. As Napoleon and Zoe grieve over Zach, Heather says she needs to them it was her fault. She gave Zach asthma medication without reading the side effects, which include depression and suicidal tendencies. Napoleon says she couldn't have known. But Zoe says she knew something was wrong, but she and Zach had been fighting so she didn't do anything. Napoleon feels some anger over these revelations but promises himself he will never say anything to them.

Jessica and Ben talk about winning the lottery. Jessica likes being rich, but Ben liked their old life. Jessica admits she scratched his Lamborgini because she was jealous he liked it more than her. Ben wonders if the money isn't like it's some type of big destructive animal they adopted and perhaps they should just give it away. Jessica reveals that she's pregnant.

Chapters 44 - 50

When they awake, they realize they are locked in. Masha and Yao are gone. They can't get out and hours pass. They try different door codes and try picking the lock to no avail.

A few people admit to themselves they kind of enjoyed being high. Ben thinks about how he and Jessica kissed a lot while they were high, but isn't sure what it really means for their relationship. He realizes it wasn't about re-connecting, it was about saying goodbye.

They know there's a security cam and assume that Masha can hear them. Jessica tries offering her money to let them out.

Chapter 51

Masha, Yao and Delilah, meanwhile, are in fact watching, listening to and analyzing all of them. Masha gets mad at Yao for not knowing that Jessica was pregnant (since otherwise she would not have given her drugs), and he insists that she's not.

Delilah thinks Masha and Yao have gone off the deep end. They've been micro-dosing for a long time and no one ever noticed (and resulted in people thinking the retreat was really working), and she didn't really care.

But giving guests enough to get them really high is a new thing, and is not going to end well. She can tell Yao is too infatuated with Masha to think clearly and is a lost cause and leaves, taking Ben's Lamborghini on the way out.

Chapters 52 - 53

As Carmel talks to Jessica, she realizes that Jessica might not be pregnant as her period is only a few days late. Jessica also reveals that she stopped taking birth control and didn't tell Ben. He's pissed.

Tony tells Frances that he's claustrophobic and this situation is getting to him. He talks about retiring from sports and how he now runs a sports marketing consultancy. He realized a while he was depressed or something and is now trying to fix it.

Chapters 55 - 64

Masha and Yao continue watching them. It's supposed to be a code-breaking exercise / escape room activity for them to bond as a group, but it's taking much longer than anticipated. In the room, the group finally notices something on the ceiling.

After a lot of effort and an injury, they finally find a package hidden in the ceiling. It's a Russian doll, but it's empty. Watching them, Yao is surprised that it's empty, since there's supposed to be a door code. Masha says that she had an epiphany and is trying something different.

Yao insists on letting them out, and Masha injects him with a syringe.

The lights go out and soon Masha appears on a screen in the room. They can see Yao unconscious with her. She says they are playing a game called "Death Row" where they will be assigned to defend each other and why that person deserves to live.

Chapters 65 - 71

Masha recalls her past and her ex-husband. She had an 11-month-old son. She remembers that he called out to her, but she was busy with work, so she ignored him for a few minutes. When she finally went to check on him, he was dead. He had strangled himself to death on the blind cords in his room.

Though her husband forgave her, she couldn't forgive herself or face him, so she left him. She's upset thinking about this memory and takes some LSD. She starts seeing hallucinations.

The Death Row "presentations" start, but Masha is very obviously out of her mind. She's displeased with them and tells them all to do push-ups, but then they start to smell smoke. Something's burning. The screen goes blank.

They can hear the cackle of fire and there's more smoke. They are huddled together in hear for a while.

Finally, someone realizes that the sounds they are hearing are repeating. It's a recording.

Chapters 72 - 74

Yao awakes and goes to rescue them, but they've escaped. The door had been unlocked for the last few hours. The smoke came from some stuff burning in a wastebasket outside the door. Yao finds them and offers them breakfast, but they're in no mood.

Masha shows up, and she overhears that they are calling the authorities. As she lunges at Heather with a letter opener, Frances hits Masha with a candelabra and takes her out.

Then, a cop shows up. It's Gus, the boyfriend of the masseuse that works there, Jan. He'd stopped Delilah for speeding in the yellow Lamborgini that she stole. He had deduced from stuff Jan had told him that this was Delilah and this car was stolen. He came to Tranquillum House to check things out.

Masha and Yao are arrested. The group goes out for wine and pizza. Tony asks Frances out and she says yes.

Chapter 75

A Few Weeks/Months Later

Jessica is not pregnant. She and Ben split up amicably.

Carmel's kids are delighted to see her. The Paris trip didn't really go smoothly. Her ex-husband is irate. Sonya offers to help out with some things, and Carmel finds that she's glad to have more support in taking care of her kids.

Frances decide to try her hand at a murder mystery. She and Tony continue dating.

Lars tells Ray they can think about having kids.

Napoleon has been struggling with depression since finding out about the reasons for Zach's death and Heather hiding things from him. They are going for counseling and working things out.

Lucy (Ben's addict sister) dies of an overdose. He thinks about calling Jessica, but calls Zoe instead.

Chapter 76

Five Years Later

Yao had pleaded guilty, but Masha claimed she was responsible for all of it so his sentence was suspended. He's barred from the medical profession in any capacity though. One day out of the blue, his ex-fiancee called, and they ended up getting back together. He now has a 2-year-old child.

Masha is on television. She is now out of jail and has written a book about the use of psychedelic drugs in 10-day wellness therapies involving facing fears and solving riddles.

The interviewer mentions that there's rumor's she's running an exclusive, illegal program in secret locations where she provides LSD as part of personal-development regiments. There's a waiting list.

Elsewhere, Masha's ex-husband sees her on television. He's with his granddaughter, who is also Masha's granddaughter. After their son died, a few months later their second son was born, but Masha gave him up, too ashamed of herself to be a mother. Instead, her ex raised him.

He gave up trying to reach out to Masha for a while, but with the birth of the new baby granddaughter he has started sending photos again, knowing that one day she will respond.

Chapter 77

Frances moves with Tony to Sydney. She has a career resurgence. Eventually they marry.

See Nine Perfect Strangers on Amazon.

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