53 pages 1 hour read

Liane Moriarty

Nine Perfect Strangers

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


Nine Perfect Strangers is a 2018 novel by Liane Moriarty. Set in Sydney, Australia, the novel follows a group of strangers who gather at a wellness retreat to receive treatment from a mysterious health guru. The novel was adapted for a 2021 television series starring Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, and Michael Shannon.

This guide uses an eBook copy of the text published by Flatiron Books. It also discusses potentially triggering situations, including death by suicide, trauma, and substance misuse.

Plot Summary

A paramedic named Yao saves the life of a Russian businessperson named Masha. Ten years later, he works for Masha at a health and wellness spa named Tranquillum House. The spa offers radical and controversial treatment programs that attract people from all over Australia. Masha plans an experimental 10-day treatment program that she believes will make her famous. She carefully selects the guests she invites to take part in her new treatment. The guests include Frances, a romance author struggling to deal with middle age who was the victim of an online scam; Tony, an ex-athlete whose family now lives abroad; Jessica, a lottery winner obsessed with cosmetic-surgery and social media; Ben, Jessica’s husband and the owner of a bright yellow sportscar; Carmel, a single mother of four who resents her husband’s leaving her for a younger woman; Lars, a gay divorce lawyer and spa addict; Heather and Napoleon, a married couple struggling to deal with the death by suicide of their son, Zach; and Zoe, Heather and Napoleon’s 20-year-old daughter and Zach’s twin sister.

The guests arrive at Tranquillum House, a Victorian sandstone mansion that’s been converted into a wellness resort. After being given a tour, they’re told that to focus their thoughts, they must take part in a noble silence: For four days, they’re not to talk or communicate with anyone. During this period, they’ll be on a strict diet involving daily smoothies. They’ll take part in yoga, massages, and other activities to heal their minds and their bodies. In addition, any forbidden items—such as wine, candy, or coffee—that they’ve snuck into the house have been confiscated from their luggage. The guests reluctantly accept the rules and begin to take part in the silence, guided by Masha’s strange, ethereal presence. However, doubts about the treatment program’s validity begin to creep into their minds.

Frances and Tony begin their relationship on difficult terms. She’s angry with him at first but begins to wonder whether there’s more to him than she first thought. Carmel is desperate to lose weight and happily embraces Masha’s more esoteric techniques. The Marconi family members find the activities useful to avoid talking about Zach’s death. The anniversary of his death will occur toward the end of the 10-day program. Yao, who’s devoted to Masha, has doubts about her more experimental treatments but puts them aside because he believes in her.

At the end of the noble silence, Masha gathers everyone in the basement meditation chamber. She reveals that she’s been giving them small amounts of hallucinogenic drugs during their treatment. The guests have mixed reactions. Heather is furious, while Lars is amused. As the drugs begin to take effect, the guests can’t fight back. They allow Masha, Yao, and the staff to host a guided meditation session under the influence of the drugs. During this session, they hallucinate and share their deepest secrets with one another. After they fall asleep, they wake up the next day and discover that Masha has locked them in the meditation room.

The guests panic and try to find a way out of the locked room. Masha and her staff watch them on the security cameras. As hours pass by, the guests sit around and talk to one another. Eventually, Masha appears on a television screen. She seems to be having a mental health experience, as she becomes more exasperated with the guests and the failure of her experiment. She’s knocked out Yao using drugs and has started smoking and eating junk food. The guests listen in horror as Masha explains that she wants to play a game. Each of them will act as the lawyer for another guest, explaining to Masha why that person should live if they were hypothetically sentenced to be executed. The guests are tired, hungry, and unsure whether Masha will harm them. They plan their defenses.

The legal defense games begin but Masha quickly becomes bored. She’s intrigued only when Carmel launches into a string of meaningless corporate jargon that appeals to Masha’s past as a businessperson. Before the end of the game, however, smoke begins to pour into the dark meditation chamber. The guests huddle desperately in a corner, convinced that Masha is burning down the house. As the guests fear for their lives, Frances wonders about the nature of the locked door. She discovers that the door has been open for hours and that Masha faked the fire using sound effects and burning paper. The guests leave the meditation chamber and confront Masha, who tries to attack Heather. Frances intervenes and knocks Masha unconscious before the police arrive.

The police take Masha to a nearby hospital to recover, and the guests stay one more night in Tranquillum House. Their experiences have brought them together, and they promise to stay connected, though they all suspect that this might not be the case. During the following months and years, Tony and Frances fall in love. Carmel comes to terms with her divorce. Ben and Jessica reach an amicable divorce agreement before Ben and Zoe explore the possibility of a romance. Lars agrees to his boyfriend’s desire to have a child. Heather and Napoleon resolve their lingering guilt and resentment surrounding Zach’s death. After a short sentence in prison, Masha is released. The other characters watch her appear on television, offering her new treatment program to others.