Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Review: Perfect By Rachel Joyce

A Novel

By: Rachel Joyce

Published:  January 14, 2013


The British author of THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY has written her newest novel, PERFECT. In PERFECT, we are taken to an English village in 1972, and an 11-year old boy finds out from a friend that the government is adding two seconds to a day, therefore altering time.  Byron and his friend James become so wrapped up in the idea and when it is going to happen, that it ends up encompassing their lives.  One morning, on the way to school, Byron notices his watch is adding the two seconds. He leans over and shows his mom, who is driving at the time, and she ends up hitting a little girl on a bicycle and then driving off.  Even though it is foggy and Byron is sure that he saw the accident, he can't believe his mom would just drive off.  Byron and James are so horrified and worried about the girl that "Operation Perfect" is enacted to protect Byron's mother from facing the consequences.  

At the same time, another story is being told in alternating chapters. This story is sent in the present time in the same English village. An adult man, Jim, lives a life confined by his daily rituals and past demons.  At first we don't know the connection between the two stories, but as the story goes on, you begin to make assumptions about who this adult man is.  Then, when you find out the true connection between the two stories, you want to go back and read everything again. 

Byron is so caught up in the idea of the "supposed" adding of the two seconds that it consumes his daily thoughts and activities.  He can't understand why no one else is upset about it and why there is nothing in the news about it.  His father is gone during the week and only home on weekends and when he is, he has no time for his family, except to tell them what they are doing wrong.  So, Byron is left to discuss the two seconds only with his friend, James, whom he sees at school.  Byron is so concerned because he believes it is the difference between something happening and something not happening.  Unfortunately, because of these two seconds something does happen and changes all of their lives forever.  After the accident, Byron struggles with asking his mom about it, wondering if someone can be guilty without knowing they were guilty. He worries about the little girl and wonders if she was hurt. He constantly checks the car for damage and the newspapers for stories on the accident.  As you read along, you begin to feel the overwhelming anxiety that both Byron and James are feeling.  You become frustrated with the submissiveness of Diana, the mother and the absence of Seymour, the controlling father.  As Diana carries on with her daily routine, you wonder if Byron imagined the accident or Diana is that afraid of the consequences or of her husband.  Then you meet the society ladies, friends of Diana.  Byron tries to listen in to their conversations to see if others are talking about the accident.  The ladies remind me more of 1950's ladies than women of the 1970's, but maybe America was farther ahead than the English in the feminist movement at that time.

As you get wrapped up in Byron's story, and then start a new chapter, you wonder why we are learning about this other character. Jim lives in a van, is socially awkward, and is overwhelmed by his OCD characteristics. His story was mostly uninteresting to me until the end of the book. Jim has had a disturbing history and his co-workers try to help him. His years at the psychiatric hospital keep coming back in his mind and you wonder if his psychosis is due to his past or his electric shock treatment that he received.  His story opens your eyes to the horrors of psychiatric hospitals and the patient's life after discharge.

PERFECT wasn't the "perfect" book for me, but saying that, there were many parts of it that I did love.  Her writing was poetic and there were many thought-provoking lines that caused me to pause and consider the statement.  Joyce was frequently able to paint a picture in my mind of Byron's house and their land near the Moor or Jim's van, that was his home.  I loved this description of an evening:

Apart from the buffeting wind, the lack of sound up here is breathtaking. For awhile neither of them speaks. They just push slowly against the wind. It charges at their bodies and whistles through the long grasses with the rage of the sea. There are many stars sprinkled like embers over the sky....the horizon is rimed with orange light. It is streetlamps, but you might think it was a fire, somewhere very far away. Page 253

I think this story would work well for book clubs.  Mothers will find themselves struggling with the weight on Byron's shoulders and then unable to comprehend the lack of intuition by his mother.  There could be much discussion on the marriage between Seymour and Diana, Jim's hospital care, the society ladies and their views on life, and how you realized the two stories are connected. PERFECT will likely appeal to many readers.  I found I liked the beginning and the ending the most, but the middle was a struggle for me.  For those who appreciate literary prose and a deeply rooted storyline, PERFECT could be just the "perfect" read.

Rachel Joyce - source

Rachel Joyce has written over 20 original afternoon plays for BBC Radio 4, and major adaptations for both the Classic Series, Woman's Hour and also a TV drama adaptation for BBC 2. She started writing after a 20-year acting career in which she won many awards.  Rachel Joyce lives with her family on a Gloucestershire Farm. For more on Rachel Joyce, visit her website, http://www.racheljoycebooks.com/.

This review is my honest opinion.  I received a paperback copy of this book for the purpose of this review.  I was not compensated in any other way for this review.  If you choose to purchase the book through the Amazon link above, I will receive a small percentage of that purchase without you having to pay a cent more.  Thanks for supporting SincerelyStacie.com.

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