Reflection: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I’m going to come right out and say it. Liane Moriarty does what Cormac McCarthy does, what Bukowski did, what so many authors who idealise American Realism want to do. And she does it in Sydney, in heels and backwards. Her characters draw the reader in, they are not always sympathetic, they are not always likeable, but they are always complex, even when it seems like they should be. She has an eye for the minutiae of the human psyche, and particularly of the ways in which women negotiate what it is to learn, perform and be a woman. In Nine Perfect Strangers Moriarty puts that mundanity of the human experience on display.

I’ll admit, straight up, I’ve never read one of Moriarty’s books. I listen to them as audio books. I find them fast paced, engaging and the audio book is (for me) an entertaining and engaging way in which to enjoy her books. They are indebted to a sense of performance, often jumping between introspection and action, or even prose and interview. She, like writers of 19th century gothic texts, plays with different writing styles, jumping timelines and embedded narratives. She has developed what I like to think of as a Beach Bum Gothic, setting the darker, seedier underside of a white Australian middle class out in the sun without any SPF50+. It burns.

This latest offering taps into the culture of the health retreat, the unthinking cultural appropriation, the exploration of consent and entitlement, particularly to other people’s bodies, issues relating to trust and vulnerability, and questions of motherhood in all its varied glories and horrors. The book shifts between perspectives of different attendees and organisers at the retreat. This shifting focalisation is one of the ways in which the characters neuroses and histories are slowly laid bare. The little and large traumas that each character brings into the meditation room impact on each other, and are not merely issues that each individual works through in isolation. This question of building community between the eponymous nine perfect strangers is almost wishful thinking: the idea that common humanity can lead to small but meaningful moments of resistance and solidarity. Moriarty is, perhaps, pessimistic about this outcome” although she offers a form of happily ever after, this is framed by a metatextual commentary on fiction writing that would be obvious even to a reader who has never heard the term “metatextuality”. Ultimitely, Moriarty offers a vision of middle-class Australian privilege that reveals the mundanity, the ugliness of the Australian Dream. I think that her work would be strengthened by leaving it unresolved, her ability to resolve a story is elegant, but it is possibly the thing that sees her described as an author of Chick Noir, rather than as a writer of literature, which is where her books more comfortably sit. I strongly recommend this book. It is fast, it is engaging, and I want to talk about it someone else as soon as possible. Read it.

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