Perfect by Rachel Joyce

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Perfect by Rachel Joyce

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The second novel from the author who brought us the wonderful Harold Fry is darker, different and almost Thomas-Hardyesque, but much better. It's just as beautiful as Harold, taking on difficult topics and triumphing.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: July 2013
Publisher: Doubleday
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0857520661

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In 1972 two seconds were added to the year. 11 year old Byron Hemmings heard about it from his friend James and felt it wouldn't be a good thing. In fact at the moment Bryon's watch's second hand reversed something happened that would mean neither his or James' lives would ever be the same again.

I started to realise it while I was reading the award winning The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and now Perfect confirms it: Rachel Joyce is the sort of author who makes a reviewer's life easy. Her characters leap from the page in full-blown humanity without the need to translate motives or ideas and yet there are many undercurrents bubbling beneath her stories. The only difficulty that Rachel presents me with is adhering to my word limit and trying to stop myself from discussing some really clever twists including a huge one that's especially brilliantly executed.

Perfect is almost Thomas-Hardyesque as Rachel builds a slippery slope, although it's better written than Hardy's books (and I speak as a Hardy fan). Perfect's slope is one of inevitability rather than predictability; we can see trouble ahead but, unlike in a Hardy novel, we can't always see what form it takes till it hits. Also unlike Hardy our emotions turn in either direction in an instant as guffaws sometimes end in a stifled sob and vice versa.

We're eased effortlessly into the children's minds. When Byron tells us that home is a softer place when his father's not there, we understand completely and when we're told James is highly intelligent, we already know; James, as in the case of each of the author's characters, quickly animate in our imaginations.

The lads go to an expensive private school and appear to have indulged lives. However we see through their often amusing child-like understanding to the cracks that are invisible to their innocence. Perhaps the life-changing event is the catalyst for what would have happened anyway? Yes, one for the book club.

The chapters alternate between the boys in 1972 and the present day life of a man named Jim. Eventually the two stories will meet; meanwhile we're enthralled by the tenderness with which Jim is portrayed, feel his frustration as he struggles and, again, experience the smiles that co-exist with the tears. Indeed, the author's gift isn't restricted to showing us the minds and lives of children as is also evident when we switch between empathising with Byron's mother and wanting to shake her.

Talking of book clubs, there'll be many a discussion about novel's title. For me it refers to our need as individuals and as a society to cling to appearances, creating a 'perfect' outer skin rather than face problems or embrace and celebrate diversity in all its forms. The message isn't used as a literary cosh though; the story is as compulsive and engaging if you don't notice the subtext or would rather ignore it.

On reflection having said that Harold Fry and Perfect are different, there's one thing they have in common: both are pure Rachel Joyce and that's turning out to be very high praise indeed.

If you've enjoyed this, you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you haven't read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. If you're already acquainted with Harold, Nine Days by Toni Jordan explores the complexities of family life again with laughter as well as tears.

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Buy Perfect by Rachel Joyce at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Perfect by Rachel Joyce at


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