Review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Perfect StrangersAll the ingredients are here to make Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers another standout — brilliant characters, sharp insight into human relationships, and laugh-out loud wit but this time round, an unconvincing, and in my eyes, an outlandish plot twist — the actions of a certain character, preposterously villainous, almost James Bond-ish — marred the final third. Don’t get me wrong; Nine Perfect Strangers is as addictive a page-turner as Moriarty’s other work, and I loved spending my time in the heads of these nine (perfect) strangers during their ill-fated ten-day retreat; but this time round, the plot just felt a little too obviously manipulated.

As always with a Liane Moriarty novel, the plot is deceptively simple. In the case of Nine Perfect Strangers, nine stressed city dwellers —  burdened by a smorgasbord of worries — arrive at  Tranquillum House, which promises healing and transformation. Every attendee hopes to be transformed and reinvigorated: romance novelist Frances, for example, has just been mightily stung by an online scammer; while Napoleon, Heather and their daughter are still struggling to come to terms with the death of their son. The resort director watching over them is a woman named Masha; and she is not to be trifled with. A former hot-shot corporate type with a tragic past, she is determined to reshape her clients — no matter what the cost.

Although it deals with some heavy themes, the laugh-out-loud humour that regularly punctuates interactions between the cast makes Nine Perfect Strangers an absolute blast from start to finish. It’s a sharp-eyed, often touching portrait of the fractured lives of disparate strangers, and the unlikely ties that bind them together. Despite my  misgivings about a certain plot element, there is no denying Liane Moriarty’s irresistible storytelling. This is pure, riotous entertainment from start to finish.

4 Star

ISBN: 9781743534922
Format: Paperback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Pages: 512
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 18-Sep-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty mightn’t boast the edginess or outright boldness of Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret, but don’t be fooled into thinking Liane Moriarty’s latest is anything short of compulsive. No other writer — I repeat, no other writer — is as capable of thrusting readers on such an emotional, exhilarating roller-coaster ride.

In Truly Madly Guilty, Moriarty explores the social and psychological repercussions of a barbecue in Sydney.  I know what you’re thinking: Uh oh! Sounds like a certain celebrated Christos Tsiolkas novel! And I suppose, as a story’s defining moment, the similarity is there to be pointed at, and possibly discussed at your future book club meeting. But Truly Madly Guilty is a very different beast, focused more on the unravelling of events leading to a catastrophic moment rather than the commentary on the middle-class provided by Tsiolkas (and just to make it clear here, The Slap is a fantastic book, and demands your attention if you haven’t read it — my storytelling sensibilities just happen to fall more in line with Moriarty’s).

The specifics of the barbecue’s catastrophic event emerge gradually. The hours leading up to that moment, the moment itself, and weeks afterwards are seamlessly intercut. Moriarty provides plenty of hints and red-herrings as to what might’ve occurred, but keeps the truth shrouded in mystery, building to the revelation, keeping readers on edge and mulling over the seriousness of what occurred. At various moments I wondered: did someone have an affair? A fistfight? A murder? I was desperate for answers, and Moriarty kept me hooked, on the edge of my seat — and when the truth was revealed, rather than deflate, rather than lose all that momentum the plot had garnered, the narrative’s focus shifts to dealing with the consequences, and poses a new question to readers: is there any coming back from this? Seriously, Truly Madly Guilty is packed with the twists and turns that put first-class thrillers to shame; and few wrap up as elegantly.

As always though, character remains king in Moriarty’s work, and the large cast presented here will live long in the memory thanks to their wildly discordant personalities and interwoven histories. There’s Erika and her husband Oliver, with their incredibly buttoned-up personalities; Clementine and Sam, and their two young daughters; and Tiffany and Vid, and their brainy daughter Dakota. Not to mention the old, irritable neighbour, Harry. Each possess characteristics readers will immediately recognise from people in their lives. Guilt manifests itself in each of them in very different ways, and all struggle to move mast the catastrophic events of the barbecue.

Unravelling at breakneck speed, Truly Madly Guilty certifies Liane Moriarty’s unparalleled ability to construct an emotionally-charged story filled with unforeseen twists. I can’t decide whether I enjoyed this more than Big Little Lies — but it doesn’t really matter. They’re both unequivocally 5-Star reads. 

ISBN: 9781743534915
Format: Paperback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 26-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

The Novel We’ve All Been Waiting For

There are aren’t many authors I’ll drop whatever I’m reading to pick up their latest book. Michael Connelly, of course; Lee Child; Ian Rankin; Matthew Reilly; Stephen King; Duane Swierczynski; Greg Rucka; Dennis Lehane.

And Liane Moriarty.

So, as you can imagine, I was pretty excited to have this drop into my lap today.

CiPhHHCUkAAzjiw

Ah, the perks of being a bookseller . . .

Suffice to say, I’ve got my day off tomorrow sorted.

Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big LittleBIG LITLE LIES is a superior, haunting, and thought-provoking drama about husbands and wives, friendships, and the secrets and lies that bind and separate us. Ostensibly about school politics, Liane Moriarty’s novel could easily be classified as a psychological thriller; its intriguing setup – the death of a parent at a trivia night, the identity of whom is kept under wraps until the very end – adds a ticking-time bomb element to proceedings, augmenting an already stellar tale into ‘unputdownable’ territory. Without a doubt, BIG LITTLE LIES is one of the best novels of 2014.

There is no shortage of potential suspects. Grievances and grudges proliferate in the high-stakes world of school politics. Readers will enjoy the clues and red-herrings Moriarty adds to the story, but is never heavy-handed with them. The novel’s not intended as a whodunit; it’s an examination of the lives of multiple families, centred around one kindergarten class. The author deserves much kudos for its structure; the standard third-person narration is interspersed with quotes from interviews with various characters who flit in and out of the main plot. It’s a fun, innovative way to break up the text, and these snippets are responsible for much of the novel’s humour, as witnesses completely misinterpret certain events.

The plot is labyrinthine, and upon greater scrutiny relies on some improbable circumstances and coincidences. In the hands of a lesser storyteller, these might be insurmountable obstacles; but Moriarty deftly weaves her way through potential minefields with flawless characterization and her portrayal of the lives of several families. There is dark undertone to BIG LITTLE LIES – at its core, it is a novel about domestic abuse – but the moments of humour, of genuine laugh-out-loud moments, means the novel is never wholly downbeat or depressing. Indeed, Moriarty expertly balances the scales; moments of stomach-churning violence, rendered simply and effectively rather than graphically, are interposed with comical parental moments – a hilarious observation by one of the kindergarteners, or an overreaction by an overzealous parent. For every page-turn that necessitated a furrowed brow, we’re never far away from a scene sure to have parents, and non-parents, grinning for ear to ear. Like life, BIG LITTLE LIES is full of highs and lows; but its quality remains steadfast throughout.

This is a novel about how the lies we tell ourselves are often the most harmful. But it’s also about friendship, and the relationships that form through sheer circumstance; we don’t choose the classmates our children bond with at school; there’s no pre-selection involved in deciding which parents we welcome into our lives. There’s something sacred and pristine about the manifestation of those alliances, and they deserve to be celebrated and cherished. BIG LITTLE LIES is a powerful portrayal of family life; guaranteed to make you laugh and cry, and be grateful for the loved ones in your life.