Continued analysis of Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers as part of the DIY MFA Writer Igniter Reading Challenge. For more details click here.

I struggled with finding the theme of NINE PERFECT STRANGERS, but have ultimately decided the theme of this novel is personal transformation. Near the end of the novel, the protagonist comments that the wellness retreat director kept saying that “nothing lasts forever”. I thought, ah-ha, that has to be it. However, I went back and re-read several parts and never saw this mentioned. So instead, I’m sticking with my original idea of personal transformation, which admittedly, is somewhat similar. From the beginning of the ten-day retreat, the director informed her nine guests “In ten days, you will not be the person you are now… You will leave Tranquilllum House feeling happier, healthier, lighter, freer.”

‘Personal transformation’ is the perfect mantra for a wellness retreat, and hence the theme of this novel because most people looking for a transformative experience are in the throes of experiencing negative turns in their life. This is the case for Moriarty’s protagonists and each of the supporting cast members. Frances had been a successful romance novelist but is now dealing with a terrible review and a newly rejected manuscript. The young married couple had been living a happy life but their lottery winnings have changed their love for each other. Tony had been a happy pro-footballer, but now that he was older unhappy with retired life. Each of them signed up for this retreat seeking a transformation.

The ten-day wellness retreat at Tranquillum house is set up with thematic elements that support the theme of personal transformation.  

  1. The ‘noble silence’ is a thematic element. Half of the retreat (five days) is a noble silence with no talking, no touching, and no eye contact. It is meant to help people transform their thoughts. Frances describes how “at first, without the distraction of noise and conversations” her thoughts were a “crazy endless repetitive loop”. But by day four, her mind has transformed. She is able to slow down her thoughts and even able to experience moments in which she thinks about nothing. A normally talkative person, she found “those moments were lovely”.

2. Dietary restrictions are another thematic element. Initially, guests believe they will be relinquishing just their ‘crave’ items, like alcohol, coffee, and sweets. Each person is provided with meals specifically for his or her needs. Again, Frances’s experiences a personal transformation regarding her diet when she eats a vegetarian curry that has her reflecting on saffron as if she’d just had a religious experience. The dietary restrictions also affect the second half of the book when they are forced to fast for more than forty-eight hours in stressful conditions.

3. SPOILER ALERT: Somewhat related to the dietary restrictions is a third thematic element. Another questionable wellness practice at the Tranquillum House is the use of drug micro-dosing. From their reception at the retreat on day one, attendees are unknowingly administered micro-doses of LSD in their smoothies. After the first twenty-four-hour period of fasting, attendees are administered a new drug: either psilocybin (from mushrooms) or ecstasy. While tripping on these drugs, participants reveal inner thoughts and concerns that help themselves see necessary steps for their personal transformation.

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