Nine Perfect Stranger is a true ensemble novel that follows the lives of nine people, who find themselves guests at the same health retreat all seeking something to better their lives in some way. We meet and spend time with each guest, getting to know them, their motivations, and their deep dark secrets. Driven by desperation, depression, yearning and loss, the guests are not really sure what they are getting themselves into, all they know is that they don’t want leave the same way, and as their enigmatic host assures them, they definitely won’t.
“Sometimes your life changes so slowly and imperceptibly that you don’t notice it at all until one day you wake up and think, ‘How did I get here?’ But other times, life changes in an instant with a lightning stroke of good or bad luck with glorious or tragic consequences.”
This one has been sitting on my shelf for a while, I finally picked it up but didn’t really bother to read the blurb again, so I really had not much idea of that this one was going to be about. I was pleasantly surprised when the novel started to throw off really creepy unsettling vibes and it became clear that there was a sprinkle of thriller mixed in.
“Relax and enjoy the journey. The stream will carry you this way and that, but will carry you forward to where you need to go.”
However the real hero of this novel, and most of the hers I’ve read, is the character building. There are a lot of point of views we get in Nine Perfect Strangers. Not just the nine retreat guests, but also the few staff that run the retreat as well. What could easily become overwhelming and confusing with characters blending together, instead I think is the novels greatest strength. Although some characters are more prominent in the novel than others, they are all unique, layered, and interesting enough that you are drawn to each person.
We get a varied experience of the retreat and they way they all react to the odd things that are happening shows us a broad spectrum of human behaviour and personalities. Some are trusting, some a wary, some ignore their instincts while others trust them, and we get to see how their personal experiences have shaped the way they react and live their lives. In the same way, there are a lot of issues dealt with in this novel with each character carrying their own trauma.
Unfortunately for me the let down in this book was the plot. I did find it interesting, just incredibly slow paced. The book puts out warning bells that all is not as it seems at the retreat on their first of ten days. This gets you to start questioning what is going on underneath the surface. However from there it plateaus with nothing really happening or escalating until much later in the book.
What I wanted from the suspense aspect of the book was rising stakes, more alarm and for the terror to really build. But the oddness, as it doesn’t escalate, kind of settles in and the novel becomes again more about the characters individual demons. This gives you lots of time to really theorise what is going on, a lot of which I ending up having guessed or considered by the time it actually happened. I kept thinking to myself I loved these characters, and I just wanted their situation to get more interesting and push them more consistently throughout the novel, rather than just at the beginning, and then not really again until the end.
“The lowest point of your life can lead to the highest.”
So I guess I just felt that there were really good bones here, but the balance just felt off. The characters were interesting, the concept was pretty good and I didn’t mind how the novel resolves, I just wanted to get there in a more exciting way, for more actual things to happen, and a little less foucus on the characters just working through their mental health.
“No one could be expected to give up wine and books at the same time.”
Still I think this will be a novel loved by many, especially those who don’t read a huge amount of thrillers and are more fans of fiction I think will find this a unique and enjoyable blend of the two genres. Whereas lovers of suspense and thrillers might find this one a but lacklustre.
The TV series now being made looks really good and I think, maybe breaking up the plot into episodes that will each need some drama, might make the pacing feel more balanced to me so I am excited to watch it.
I read this for my Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt “a book everyone seems to have read but you”. You can check out my progress here.