A Liane Moriarty novel feels a little bit like an Adele record (please bear with this metaphor): There’s huge excitement around the arrival of a new one — Nicole Kidman, who won just about everything short of a Nobel for her role in HBO’s blockbuster adaptation of Moriarity’s Big Little Lies, has already snatched up the rights to Nine — but a little snobbishness, too. As if making something that feels so good to sink into (and is nominally considered “woman’s work”) isn’t its own kind of art form.
Her latest, about disparate guests thrown together at a remote health resort, has no shortage of secrets, lies, and social intrigue; it’s like an Agatha Christie country-house mystery set in the Australian outback, with more kale-pineapple smoothies and less murder. There’s a disillusioned romance novelist, an aging ex-athlete, a wealthy young couple in the midst of a marriage crisis, a family struggling to recover from a recent tragedy, and an almost offensively good-looking divorce lawyer, among others.
Even the proprietress, a Russian émigré named Masha with a slightly mad gleam in her eye, is hiding more than she’ll admit to behind her Zen proclamations and glacial calm. (It’s hard not to picture some ice-blond Amazon somewhere between Tilda Swinton and Gwendoline Christie in the coming screen adaptation.)
While it all hums along like a well-calibrated engine, Nine Perfect Strangers never quite hits the narrative heights of past work like BLL and The Husband’s Secret — though it does feel much more immediate and enjoyable than her last, the disappointly drawn-out Truly Madly Guilty. Moriarity has a way of nesting inside her characters’ heads and bringing them to life in a way that’s not just relatable but illuminating; we know these people not because they’re archetypes but because they’re so specifically, universally human.
There will be a cascade of revelations before the last page, with almost no narrative ribbon left untied; the book’s innate breeziness often makes way for deeper reflections on grief, trauma, and recovery, and more than one surprisingly topical angle, too. But it’s also just good old-fashioned storytelling, full of feeling and well-wrought lines. You know, just like a great pop song. B+