This Perfect World by Suzanne Bugler

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This Perfect World by Suzanne Bugler

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Laura's perfect but brittle world begins to disintegrate when the past comes back to haunt her. Absorbing and beautifully observed, it's a stunning but dark novel.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 290 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 023074401X

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Laura Hamley sees herself as a fortunate woman. She has a successful husband, two beautiful children, a big house in a good neighbourhood, and a coterie of friends who fall nicely into the category of people like us. She's always beautifully turned out, and her position in the social pecking order is never less than high. She simply shrugs off the occasional moments of dissatisfaction - what on Earth could she have to complain about?

And then Mrs Partridge makes an unwelcome phone call...

Her daughter, Heddy, has had a breakdown and has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. As an old friend with legal connections, Mrs Partridge wants Laura's help in getting her released. But the truth is, Laura was never a friend of Heddy's. She was her tormentor, her bully. And Heddy reminds Laura of a life she'd much rather forget, and a life that most certainly doesn't have a place in her new, golden existence.

I first came across Suzanne Bugler in her electrifying book for teenagers, Meet Me At The Boathouse. It's about an abusive relationship and it was one of my favourite books of 2007 - tense, frightening and subtle, it exposed family and first love dynamics in an absolutely unforgettable way. This Perfect World follows many of its themes. It's about false impressions, cruelty, and the damage that unfulfilling family relationships wreak upon people.

I'll confess to a degree of schadenfreude until I got about halfway through Laura's story. Her perfect world is my worst nightmare - full of status and pushy mothers and precocious children, the right clothes, the right house and the right hairstyle even, for heavens sakes. I can't imagine anything more awful and I feel a visceral dislike for the people who buy into such a lifestyle. So I was quite pleased when Laura's artificial, superficial veneer of happiness and success began to disintegrate.

But, by the end, I had learned a lesson too. Laura's bad behaviour towards Heddy wasn't acceptable, but it didn't come from nowhere, and it had, at least in part, propelled her towards the empty vessel of her marriage to James and the vacuity of her pointlessly competitive life as a mother. It was sad rather than contemptible. My press sheet describes Bugler as a dark new voice in women's fiction, and while she certainly doesn't write bubblegum, I'd probably see her more as clearsighted and honest. She's subtle and intelligent and her observation is so sharp it almost cuts. But she isn't cruel.

Like Meet Me At The Boathouse, This Perfect World is a spellbinding book, drawing you in and in and in. It's written with lyricism and a great intensity, and I recommend it to you wholeheartedly.

My thanks to the good people at Macmillan for sending the book.

If This Perfect World piques your interest, you might also enjoy The Eyrie by Stevie Davies, which is also about the effect of the past upon the present. We also love After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell, told in a series of flashbacks. The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall is an entirely different book, but it has comments to make about gender that may strike a chord.

Booklists.jpg This Perfect World by Suzanne Bugler is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2010.

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