Tuesday, February 04, 2014

PERFECT by Rachel Joyce

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I adored Rachel Joyce's previous novel, THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, so I jumped at the chance to read her latest book.  Joyce has a real gift in creating interesting and unusual characters.  She populates her books with individuals who aren't your average heroes but are heroes nonetheless.

PERFECT takes place in England in 1972.  Byron Hemmings and his friend James Lowe are 11 years old and are on the cusp of manhood. They are dealing with the pressures of preparing for their entrance examinations for college.  Byron and his sister Lucie live in a lovely Georgian home with their mother Diana who strives to be the perfect wife while her husband is away during the week in London.  Throughout the book, the reader begins to see just what a struggle it is for Diana to maintain that illusion of perfection.  One day, when they are running late for school, Diana and the children drive through an unsavory part of town in an attempt at a shortcut.  In the fog, the car spins out of control.  Diana rights it and they make it to school but Byron realizes she doesn't seem to know that she hit a little girl on a bicycle in the process. This begins a chain of events that will change the lives of all of the characters forever.

There are a lot of things going on in this story.  We encounter mental illness, class warfare, a coming-of-age tale, emotional abuse, blackmail, and much more.  There is so much here that Joyce some of the threads in the story have to be dropped in order to continue the narrative.  The characters are amazing and interesting, however. Joyce does a wonderful job creating flawed and complex characters.  The story moves back and forth between the Summer of 1972 and the present where we see where one of the boy ended up.  The plot twist at the end of the book doesn't prove especially effective because there are enough clues early on that a careful reader can figure out what is going to happen. However, that doesn't hinder the final outcome of the book.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This is a heartbreaking coming-of-age story that also manages to be beautiful.  While the book is as flawed as its characters, it still manages to tell a compelling story that will leave you thinking about the characters and longing for answers for a long time to come.

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