Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review: Perfect by Rachel Joyce

Perfect
by Rachel Joyce
 
From the author of the international bestseller, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, comes another exquisite and emotionally resonant novel about the search for the truth and unconditional love.On a foggy spring morning in 1972, twelve-year-old Byron Hemming and his mother are driving to school in the English countryside. On the way, in a life-changing two seconds, an accident occurs. Or does it? Byron is sure it happened, but his mother, sitting right next to him in the car, has no reaction to it. Over the course of the days and weeks that follow, Byron embarks on a journey to discover what really happened--or didn't--that fateful morning when everything changed. It is a journey that will take him--a loveable and cloistered twelve-year-old boy with a loveable and cloistered twelve-year-old boy's perspective on life--into the murkier, more difficult realities of the adult world, where people lie, fathers and mothers fight without words, and even unwilling boys must become men. Byron will have to reconcile the dueling realities of that summer, a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit and the power of compassion.
 
Publication Date: November 5, 2013
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
 
 
Kat's Review
 
This novel brought me to tears at times. Byron's tendency to obsess over the smallest detail begins to take over his life in the aftermath of the accident he believes his mother was in while driving him to school. His mother's carefully curated persona and obsessive need to make things right with the family of the "injured" girl adds to the stress of Byron's life. The title of this novel foreshadows the overriding theme- the search for perfection in all things, even if it is destroying the one who searches.

 
Byron's parents aim for the perfect image of marriage, even while it is clear that the relationship between them is strained. Byron's mother reverts to a 1950s style housewife when his father is home for the weekend, serving up perfect meals in her conservative skirts and heels, and driving a car that is better than that of any of the other mothers at Byron's school. She reminded me of a vase covered in hairline cracks that are barely visible to the naked eye, but that render the vase weaker and more easily breakable day by day. When she throws herself headfirst into making amends for the accident, the working class roots her husband is so ashamed of and that she has tried so hard to hide, begin to come through.
 
Although Byron seems to have a good relationship with his mother, the constant stress and pressure obviously affect him, and it shows in his obsession with even the tiniest detail. The novel goes back and forth between past and present, and there is some confusion as to who the adult protagonist is and how he came to be a long-term mental health patient trying desperately to cope in the outside world, but as the story progresses, things become clear and the various threads of the plot begin to be tied up.
 
This novel is a moving portrait of social pressure, mental illness, and human behaviour, both for better and for worse. I felt for most of the characters, even the ones who displayed some despicable behaviour.
 
Kat's Rating: All Consuming
 
This is a book of complex emotions, but that attempts to side-step passing judgement on the various characters. It's a touching portrait of individuals buckling under the pressure of trying to achieve perfection, and the ways in which some of them are able to move forward despite their very deep imperfections.
 
I received a complimentary copy of this title from NetGalley & the publisher in return for an honest review.

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