I really enjoyed Rachel Joyce’s first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. The language use and characterization in this are similar, Joyce has quite a unique style. But the subject matter is quite different.
Perfect – about the drive to achieve perfection in many ways – has two lines of narrative. It took quite a while in my reading for me to find the connection between them, but be assured there is one. This could be perceived by many as a weakness early in the reading, but does actually work out in the end.
The first narrative is set in the late 1970s and surrounds Byron, who is a nervous child living with his mother and sister in the country. His father visits them on weekends. Byron’s mother, who he calls Diana, is a bit of a free spirit, and doesn’t quite fit in with the other mothers.
When his clever friend James tells him that two seconds are going to be added to time, Byron becomes rather nervous. How can you simply create time? And then, when his mother has a minor car accident and inadvertently injures a girl on this very day, Byron blames the change in time.
His mother doesn’t realize she has hurt anyone, so Byron carries the burden alone until he reveals it to her. The girl is largely uninjured, but her mother creates drama around the cut on her knee as a way to ingratiate herself into Diana’s life. Diana both wants to make things right, and also loves having a friend – she feels quite isolated in the country where it appears she has been sent after her husband becomes suspicious that she is having an affair.
Byron watches the two women relate with caution, often relying on his friend James to try to interpret the friendship and help his mother see that she is being used. But the guilt Diana feels over the imagined injury of this child continues to have an affect, and Byron is frustrated that he cannot help her more.
The second narrative concerns Jim and is set in the present day. Jim is a middle-aged man who has lived with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for most of his life, and has been in and out of institutions. We see the impact his disease has had on his life, his relationships and his ability to keep a job. Jim is in love with Eileen, but is not sure how he could ever make it work.
A very satisfying read, and Joyce’s delightful style again will leave the reader charmed again, although this time, with some more powerful ideas to ponder.