“I’m beginning to think chaos is underrated”; a central quote in a story about how imperfect life is, and the price some people pay in their quest to make it what it will never be; perfect.
Rachel Joyce, the British author who brought us the award winning debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of HaroldFry, returns with her second novel, Perfect, published in 2013, to discuss some very profound topics, yet basing her story on a very simple premise. At the beginning of the story, in 1972, 11-year-old Byron Hemmings, is told by his highly intelligent and observant friend, James Lowe, that the government will add two seconds to time, because of some anomaly in the alignment of time with the spinning of the Earth. Just two seconds. Can two seconds change a life? Can two seconds disrupt the perfection of one’s life? Or was the perfection all but a fragile stage set waiting to be blown over to expose what was hidden?
Rachel Joyce’s novel Perfect tackles these questions and much more. She never really states these questions out loud so as not to be too preachy, and she also doesn’t force a certain answer down the reader’s throat. The ensemble of characters is not large, and all of them are consistent throughout the story and act in manners realistic enough for us to believe them.
I’ve read both her novels and although they lack some of the characteristics of more experienced authors, I still liked both books because of the subjects she tackles. Although her plots are not the strongest or most intriguing, her stories make you think about your life and that is enough to keep you reading.
Her style is soft, and her language easy, which will make for a quick read, but you’ll still be left with a lot to think about. If I were to have one comment on this book is that it shows signs of being the author’s first novel (she announced that she started writing this novel first but it wasn’t completed and published till later). Since I am trying to work on my first novel myself, I could sense the similarities between her writing and my own. It’s clear that many of her characters and also scenes in the story are based on things from her real life. For some, this maybe a signal not to pick up this book, but for me it was the great thing about this story; it was written because it is a story that the author felt the need to tell, something she needed the world to hear, and that, at least in my opinion is what writing is all about.
It’s challenging to write a review and tell the readers about the merits of the story without giving any of it away, but I’ll tell you this much; issues of obsession, mental illness, peer pressure and the stress of trying to please everyone around you are only a few of the themes in this story and the author touches on all of them nicely.
Byron and James are two central characters in Perfect and Joyce puts us inside their heads and succeeds in making them believable. Diana, Byron’s mother, is another pivotal character whom, at times, makes you feel sorry for her and at other times will irritate you; just like most people you know. Even Byron’s father, Seymour, although he doesn’t have much “stage time”, his presence is always felt and his influence in the story is far from little.
Perfect may well be the author’s actual first attempt at a novel, but it is true enough and sincere enough to make you cheer for her, and value what it means to sit down, pour part of your life and soul into a story and share it with the world. So, despite its flaws, isn’t that enough to make it, Perfect?