“I think we’re all trapped in the spaceship now.”
I’ve read and enjoyed Liane Moriarty’s Apples Never Fall and Big Little Lies so on to Nine Perfect Strangers which the Gerts, who gauge my tastes with great success, said I would enjoy. Nine Perfect Strangers was made into a TV series and I enjoyed that while noting that some things didn’t quite work. It’s always great fun to read the book and compare the series, or vice versa.
Nine Perfect Strangers is set at the Tranquillum House health resort which is about a 6 hour drive north of Sydney. Nine people, as the title suggests, book a 10 day retreat, and they all have their reasons for needing a very expensive “boutique health and wellness resort.” The director of Tranquillum House Maria Dmitrichenko, or Masha offers an “exclusive Ten-Day Mind and Body Total Transformation Retreat,” with the promise that “in ten days, you will not be the person you are now,” and that they “will leave Tranquillum house feeling happier, healthier, lighter, freer.” Here are the 9 guests:
Frances, a twice-divorced, overweight, successful writer of tacky romance novels. She was recently bilked by an internet dating scammer and her career is in freefall.
Napoleon Marconi, his wife Heather and their daughter Zoe. Zoe’s twin brother committed suicide 3 years previously and while the 3 Marconis are bonded by tragedy, they each harbour secret guilt about Zach’s death.
Carmel, an insecure mother of 4, with body image issues, whose husband left her for a much younger woman.
Ben and Jessica, a young couple who won the lottery and have been drifting apart ever since.
Lars, a gay divorce lawyer whose partner wants a child.
Tony, a former professional football player who is now divorced and eating and drinking his way to an early grave.
Staff-wise, there’s Masha, a former corporate executive who runs the show, and Yao and Delilah, her two assistants.
Nine Perfect Strangers is an entertaining, funny, light, slightly bloated read with a few nods to the complications of the human condition. The guests (and staff) are all damaged in various ways by life experiences, and they need to heal. Ben and Jessica were high school sweethearts and winning the lottery has ruined their marriage. Jessica sees her life in Instagram posts and is on a never-ending quest to surgically improve her body. Problem is “the more Jessica changed her face and body, the less secure she became.” Ben can hardly stand to look at the ‘new’ Jessica, and the love of his life is now his Lamborghini.
Sometimes when she spoke normally, when she was just being herself, he could forget the frozen forehead, the blowfish lips, the puffy cheeks, the camel eyelashes (“eyelash extensions”), the fake hair (“hair extensions”), and the fake boobs, and there, for just a moment , was his sweet Jessica, the Jessica he’d known since high school.
The ‘trips’ were boring to read, and the characters are mere types, and not fully fleshed. The character of Frances stole the book and the series (IMO), and the series added some sex and a thriller subplot–both of which were mercifully absent from the book. I particularly loved the deprivations of Masha’s programme and how some guests tried smuggling in contraband and expected to be pampered for all the money they spent and not … well… you have to read the book. But possibly the most entertaining section (in the book) involves Masha’s meltdown. She’s a lot more fun in the book than in the series.
Masha said, “Do you know, there was a great man. His name was Steve Jobs.”
Lars who has been expecting her to say the Dalai Lama, snickered.
“I always admired him greatly,” said Masha.
“Not sure why you took all our iphones away then,” muttered Tony.
“Do you know what Steve Jobs said? He said that taking LSD was one of the most important, profound experiences of his life.”
“Oh well then” said Lars, greatly amused. “If Steve Jobs said we should all take LSD, then we really should!”