I thoroughly enjoyed Rachel Joyce’s first novel, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” and eagerly awaited a second book by this talented author. “Perfect” is the title of this second offering and I have to say that I enjoyed it as much as the first.
The story is set in two different time zones; the spring and summer of 1972 and the present, with the some of the characters featuring in both zones. As the story unfolds, it eventually becomes obvious that there will be some merging of the two strands. This is a device that has not always satisfied me in the past, but I felt that Rachel Joyce handled this aspect of her storytelling effortlessly. By using the past tense for the 1972 episodes and the present tense for the more up to date part of the novel, there was never a problem with locating oneself within the story.
There are many layers to “Perfect” and also a range of interesting characters. Byron Hemmings and James Lowe are boys in 1972, interested in the world around them and full of ideas and plans. They are particularly interested in the thought that two seconds will be taken away from time during the year and it is Byron’s amazement at seeing the second hand of his watch moving backwards that leads to an event which will ultimately change his life and the lives of those around him.
In my opinion, one of the most endearing characters from the 1972 strand is Byron’s mother, Diana. She is trapped in what appears to be a loveless marriage, isolated in the country with her two children, Byron and his little sister, Lucy. She does not really fit in with the other mothers, but is not afraid to voice her opinion. Without a doubt, she is a good mother, who loves her children deeply.
In the other strand, we come across Jim, a man with mental health problems, who works in a local supermarket. His efforts to survive safely involve many painstaking rituals. His life is fraught with difficulties, but he gradually comes to realise that there are people who care for him.
I experienced a range of emotions while reading “Perfect”: sadness, amusement, anger, hope. For me, this is the perfect novel – one which engaged me, made me think and it is beautifully written.