Books

Perfect

By Rachel Joyce.

Perfect is Rachel Joyce’s second book. Her debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry (reviewed here), I had enjoyed enormously, so I was looking forward to seeing if she had maintained the high standard of story telling she had set for herself in her first novel.

Everything that happens is a matter of time, or is it? For one young man, perhaps it’s not a matter of just time but of timing. In 1972 two seconds were added to the year, to correct the clocks of the time we measure which had slipped out of synchronisation with the actual motion of planet Earth around our sun. This two seconds had devastating effect on Byron Hemmings.

Byron’s mother, Diana, was perfect, or at least his father, Seymour, seemed to be trying to mould her into his own idea of perfection. Seymour reminded me as no one so much as Mr Banks, who anyone who remembers the story of Mary Poppins will know. Byron and his sister, Lucy, were almost exclusively looked after by Diana. His father worked in the city during the week and even at the weekend seemed to have little time for his offspring.

It was Byron’s unlikely, smarter friend who had told Byron about the addition of the two extra seconds, having read about them in one of the ‘quality’ newspapers. Perhaps it would be better if Byron hadn’t known about this ‘correction’ of time, which he seemed to view as people tinkering with the natural order of things, so upsetting the balance.

Just before the school summer holidays, a minor car accident apparently caused, at least in Byron’s mind, by the extra two seconds changed everything and set off a chain of events that would take over 40 years to put right.

Rachel Joyce weaves an intricate, absorbing tale spanning decades and yet as intricate as her story telling, it is never so complex that you lose track of the story or the relationships between her characters. She is able to paint a picture in words of each character, that has you believing in them but which is never so prescriptive that your own imagination can not flesh them out.

There are little clues throughout the story pointing toward its final conclusion. When you get to the end most readers, I suspect, will find that the ultimate completion and consequences are not what the clues had lead you to expect and yet it all makes perfect sense. Nothing conflicts with the misleading clues.

Although I never laughed out loud (some readers will I am sure) the book is full of humour that often made me smile, bringing a broad grin. Not all the players in the tale are sympathetic and yet I found a curious sense of empathy with one, at least initially, apparently unsympathetic character, Eileen.

Eileen is seemingly big, brash and loud, the antithesis of Jim with his compulsive rituals and reclusive lifestyle and yet her loudness hides vulnerability and hurt. Will they find some kind of happiness together by the end of the story? I’m not going to tell you but what I will say is that I found myself talking to them, wanting to whisper advice and give them a little push in the right direction but for them, what is ‘the right direction’?

A book has never brought me to tears but a friend, who also read Harold Fry and was also sufficiently impressed by it to read Rachel’s Perfect, told me that the finale brought her to tears. I regard myself as fairly unemotional but for once I think I can understand her reaction.

There is no such thing as a perfect story but Perfect by Rachel Joyce must rank as being pretty close. Five stars.

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