Can a health retreat really change your life forever?
Nine people gather at a remote resort in Australia. Some are there to lose weight, some are there to heal from grief, and some are there for reasons they are not even aware of themselves. Even though they are expecting some luxury and pampering, they also know that giving up some things might be necessary to reach their goals. However, none of them could ever have imagined how challenging it would actually be!! The novel felt to me like an old Agatha Christie mystery with all of the possible culprits assembled in the same hotel with some sinister event lurking just around the corner. Will it be Miss Scarlet in the gym with a rope? or will someone be found floating in the pool?
It’s hard for me to talk about this book without giving spoilers. If you are a Moriarty fan, (as I am) you will not want to miss it, even though it wasn’t my favourite. It does have her trademark mildly satirical sense of humour, this time taking on the wellness industry. My favourites of hers, so far, are The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies. I do always love Moriarty’s characters and enjoy reading her books, but I had hoped for a better plot line in this one. Though there is psychological suspense as the main twist is slowly revealed, it all seemed a bit too cheerful to be a thriller and too character driven to be a page-turner. The ending was mystifying and I want to talk about it when you’ve read it!
Was Moriarty teasing us and poking fun at herself halfway through the novel when one of the characters is asked how she likes the book she is reading? The reply is this, “The book was meant to be another murder mystery but the author had introduced far too many characters too early, and so far everyone was alive and kicking. The pace had slowed. Come on now. Hurry up and kill someone.” Pretty tongue-in-cheek because at that moment I was feeling exactly the same about Nine Perfect Strangers! 🙂
In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP). Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty. This is part coming-of-age, part American history, and part old-fashioned family saga set during a very hot and sweltering summer in the southern US.
Though there are several narrators in this post-depression story, the primary one is twelve-year old Willa, a headstrong, bright, and observant member of the mysterious Romeyn family. She has a sister Bird and twin aunts who also live at the house, her mother is gone, her father ostensibly does some kind of work selling chemicals, and the household is run by her spinster Aunt Jottie. Layla enters this strange household, chocka-block full of family secrets, as a boarder while she writes the town history for the FWP.
Annie Barrows is best known for co-authoring The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer. As in Guernsey, there is a delightfully lively sense of humour in the writing of this novel and an ability to create charmingly eccentric characters. The novel begins a bit slowly, but picks up around the p. 200 mark.
Meh, not her best, and I am a Tyler fan. The first half of this, her latest novel, was typical Tyler–easy and recognisable descriptions of everyday life. The second half was predictable and bland. Julie Myerson from the Guardian says it best, “The Baltimore author’s 22nd book has familiar comforts, but lacks narrative drive.”
Willa has always let life happen to her. We see Willa in the novel at ages 11, 21, 41, and 61. One day she receives a phone call and flies across the country to help someone she has never met and isn’t even related to. This impulsive decision is, of course, the catalyst to examining her own life and choices (or lack thereof).
The novel starts strong with Willa and her friend trying to sell chocolate bars for charity in the neighbourhood. The angst around knocking on doors brought me right back to my own childhood, which is what this author does best. Later there’s an odd scene about a man threatening Willa with a gun on an airplane that flirts with danger and intrigue, but soon deflates like a popped balloon and leaves Willa once again seeming weak and wimpish–a brilliant point made about Willa, however, after that, lively scenes disappear altogether and the novel flatlines. Even the conclusion which should have been ground breaking and earth shattering (since her whole life had been leading up to this point) sadly lacked luster. Oh well, it’s not unusual to enjoy some books from a favourite author less well than some others–this, is just that.
Louise Penny’s books are a cut above. They are well written and thoughtful as well as compelling and mysterious. And as with any series, getting to know the usual cast of characters and seeing a deepening in their development over time, is part of the pleasure. For me the series is getting better and better. I also loved the setting of this fourth Armand Gamache mystery which is called A Rule Against Murder in the US. The usual setting for Penny’s novels, the little quaint town of Three Pines, is not forgotten even though in this one it only makes a guest appearance. The fictional town of Three Pines is practically a character itself in the series by now.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie are spending an anniversary holiday at a beautiful logged lodge overlooking a lake in the magnificent Canadian wilderness. There is a wealthy dysfunctional family staying there as well, in fact some of the family members are a little annoyed when they discover that they don’t have the whole place to themselves, and another couple is staying there. Little do they know that the man in the back bedroom is not the housekeeper’s husband, but the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec and that a murder is about to happen.
Louise Penny says she based the character of Armand Gamache on her husband Michael without even realising it. The manor in this novel was loosely based on a real manor (Manoir Hovey Resort) where Louise and Michael celebrated their own wedding.
I love it when novels with a difficult subject matter are narrated in a child’s voice. The innocent description makes a story less overwhelming and gives a unique perspective. The child’s voice can bring an element of tenderness, awe, and even humour to life’s most heartbreaking situations, exploring big emotions with simplicity and fresh insight. Examples you may know are The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Room by Emma Donoghue, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.
This book is especially poignant because the child has been largely abandoned by a grieving family when his older brother has died in a school shooting. Already a quiet introverted child, Zach retreats even further to try to cope with his memories of the shooting and the loss of his brother. When his parents remain absent and continue to struggle with grief in their own dysfunctional way, Zach’s courage, honesty, and integrity find a way to save his family from the darkness.
“On Canada’s Atlantic coast at the edge of the great Newfoundland fishing banks of the 1950s, Sylvanus Now is a handsome and wilful fisherman. His youthful desires are simple: he wants a suit to lure a girl—the fine-boned beauty Adelaide—and he knows exactly how much fish he has to catch to pay for it. Adelaide, however, has other dreams. She longs to escape the sea, the fish, and the stultifying community, but her need for refuge from her own troubled family leads her to Sylvanus and life in the neighbouring port.”
This book is a love letter to the Newfoundland of the 1950’s. It’s the first in a trilogy that I will definitely be reading all of. Evocative and heartbreaking, it is a character driven novel that also does a beautiful job of highlighting how individuals were affected by the cataclysmic changes that were forced upon them by the outside world. Foreign trawlers and the advent of modern industrial factories robbed simple fishermen of their livelihood. Sylvanus and Addie are at the center of this novel and they are unique and intriguing characters. All of the personalities in this novel are so distinctive and the setting is beautifully atmospheric. Even though the novel is not big on plot, and a bit tedious at times, there is an earthiness and everyday drama to it that I really enjoyed. According to reviews, apparently the pacing picks up in the later books, especially in The Fortunate Brother which ended up being a mystery set in the Alberta oil fields.
The titles in the trilogy in order are:
What They Wanted
The Fortunate Brother
Note: when reading the Newfoundland dialect, I found it helpful to know that b’ye means ‘boy’ or ‘buddy’, not goodbye.
I’s the b’y that builds the boat
And I’s the b’y that sails her
I’s the b’y that catches the fish
And brings them home to Liza.