Perfect – Rachel Joyce
I very much enjoyed Rachel Joyce’s first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which apart from being a delightful metaphor about journeys, both personal and physical, also gave mentions to trips to places that I actually live! Which, if I’m honest, was a wonderful little cherry on top of an already amazing cake. Which is why, when I saw that Perfect was available as an ARC, I started wishing and hoping that I would be approved for it, because honestly, I kind of wanted to feel the magic of Harold Fry all over again and in some ways I did, which was lovely, and in others it was entirely different which was also lovely, but it wasn’t quite as satisfying.
In 1972, two seconds were added to time. It was in order to balance clock time with the movement of the earth. Byron Hemming knew this because James Lowe had told him and James was the cleverest boy at school. But how could time change? The steady movement of hands around a clock was as certain as their golden futures.
Then Byron’s mother, late for the school run, makes a devastating mistake. Byron’s perfect world is shattered. Were those two extra seconds to blame? Can what follows ever be set right?
Perfect is delightfully charming, it was almost J K Rowling-esque in the terms of the narrative, think the Casual Vacancy rather than Harry Potter, that’s the best way I can think to describe the wealth and depth of the characters and the endearing quality of how they were written.
This is though, quite a difficult book to talk about with regards to plot, it’s a long one, with two slow burning stories, the connection of which isn’t really apparent until the last quarter . On the one hand, there is a tale about class in the 70s focusing mainly on eleven year old Byron, who goes to private school and who has an existential crisis about the addition of two seconds, which results in his miserable middle class mother meeting a working class woman and the pair forming a questionable friendship, this is interwoven with the story of Jim a grown up who has spent the majority of his life in a psychiatric hospital and embarking on a relationship of sorts with a woman who hits him with a car.
Essentially I guess, the book as a whole is about the butterfly affect, how one tiny thing can cause massive repercussions. Without the two seconds, Diana and Beverley would never have met, without having his foot run over, Jim would have never spent time with Eileen and started reliving his past. Which doesn’t sound like too much difficulty to explain, I guess, the fact that this book is long and the actual crux of the story doesn’t start til much later is why I think that – people just starting this book aren’t going to think that the above is a relevant plot point.
Slight spoiler alert, but when I got to the big reveal of just how Jim is connected to Byron’s story I legit made this face:
Although this isn’t as perfect as Harold Fry, it is genuinely really rather good, I was utterly enthralled by Jim and his struggle with his mental health, this book has one of the most sensitive and empathetic portrayals of OCD I have encountered, Jim’s rituals and fear are heartbreaking and his mentions of his time spent in psychiatric care are both sensitively and truthfully done. Similarly, the sections about Byron and his mother’s unhappiness are done remarkably well. It is heavy and dark at times, but leaves you with the sense that hope is around the corner. It’s only real problem was that the ending let it down a little bit, it was a little too fairy tale and they lived happily ever after for me, especially considering some of the themes in the book.
I can see this being THE book of this year. It may not be perfect, but it is far from being imperfect and I wait with anticipation to see what Rachel Joyce comes up with next and as such, gets the first Nick Fury Seal of Approval for 2014!