Friday, 10 January 2014

Perfect

Before I start, I have to confess that Rachel Joyce's hit novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, is one that hasn't made it onto my to-read so I can't make comparisons. Which is probably no bad thing. I opened Perfect with no preconceptions and I was greeted with a haunting tale of class, broken dreams and how the course of our lives can change in the blink of an eye.

The thrust of the action takes place in 1972, where public schoolboy Byron Hemming is informed by his friend James that two seconds are going to be added onto time. This idea deeply troubles Byron, and a course of events and the two seconds result in an accident when his mother, taking a route through the undesirable part of town, knocks a girl off her bike.

These two seconds result in the unraveling of Byron's life as he knows it. His mother, Diana, changes before his eyes from a perfect housewife in a 1950s timewarp, threatening the security he has always known. She becomes friends with the working class mother of the child injured in the accident (although I doubt this accident actually happened and instead was a figment of Byron's imagination). Diana's transformation unleashes insecurity in her husband, convinced he is losing his grip on the wife he transformed from prostitute's daughter and stage performer to middle class housewife. His perfectly groomed house becomes a mess as his mother abandons domesticity.

I found Byron's innocence and the simplicity of his emotions as the veneer of his family's background cracks heartbreaking. Class is all around and constraining, crushing Diana's free spirit. Byron adores but does not understand his mother, placing her on a pedestal and is confused as her true self is set free. For me, this is Diana's tale and all I wanted was for her to be well and to be free. The ending for their tale moved me and stayed with me long after reading.

There was a second strand to this tale, focusing in the future with a troubled man named Jim who works in a cafe following a stint in a mental health facility. I just couldn't get into this part of the tale and I felt it added a slightly predictable element to a story that's otherwise full of surprises. Other than this, I felt this was a dark, haunting tale of family life, and definitely one to lose yourself in on a bleak January morning.

(Available in hardback, paperback and Kindle edition from Amazon)

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