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Perfect Lives Paperback – 5 May 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (5 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860499937
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860499937
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.4 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 117,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

`Accomplished . . . Focusing, sometimes comically, sometimes compassionately, on apparently prospering, well-organised and contented people, Samson traces tremors of disruption threatening the stability of her characters' relationships and themselves' --Peter Kemp, Sunday Times, Books of the Year

'A collection of short stories that makes you invent excuses to retire to a private place for a quick injection of reading' --Bella Freud, Evening Standard, Books of the Year

`Perfect Lives links together various characters in the same town in a narrative daisy chain that allows the reader to know Samson's characters better perhaps than they know themselves. A breezy, artless writer, Samson is mercilessly accurate at lampooning middle class self-deception' --Metro, Books of the Year

'Terrific. Funny, beautifully observed and often poignant, they're the best thing Samson has produced yet . . . This is a writer who misses nothing' --Cressida Connolly, Spectator, Books of the Year

'Subtle and complex . . . Perfect Lives is an echo chamber of cause and effect, and art and life, and life and loss' --Carole Cadwalladr, Observer

Book Description

* The stunningly well received short story collection from the ever-brilliant Polly Samson, out now in paperback

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Damaskcat HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 5 Dec. 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Polly Samson's Perfect Lives is a collection of loosely interlinked short stories. I like the idea of interlinked short stories and several authors have tried it but few have managed it successfully. This book is no exception and the quality of the stories is uneven. I thought the first story - `The Egg' - was very good. The perfect life of Celia Idlewild is well portrayed in all its slightly sinister perfection with the advent of the egg itself showing the underlying cracks. Unfortunately the rest of the stories are not of the same standard.

The writing is good but too self consciously literary for my taste with simile piled upon metaphor where simple straightforward words would have been more telling and more effective. One sentence which struck me as being particularly clumsy was this one from the story called `At Arka Pana': `Her grandmother's breathing was shale at the shore, her tongue a dehydrated cockle.' I did think this particular story was interesting with teenager Claudine meeting her father and grandmother for the first time in a trip to Poland.

Much of the subject matter is slight and some of the stories have inconclusive endings which veer towards the obscure. The reader is left wondering what exactly was going on between the characters. Was Laura in `Ivan Knows' really part of the circus or was it just the child Ivan's imagination? What exactly was the message that Rose needed to convey to her daughter Anna in `The Rose Before the Vine'? The last story in the book features a television remote control and a talking cat. Oddly enough I thought this to be one of the more successful stories provided the reader can suspend disbelief and accept the talking cat. Many households are dominated by the remote control and this is a slightly humorous look at the issue.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Silver Moon Sailor on 2 Jan. 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Strangely unsatisfying, a bit fluffy and fussy and middle class. I prefer my short stories with some meat, some flavour and body to chew on and remember. Some of the stories are plotless and pointless. Can you even call them stories? There are some lovely descriptions and characters are believable and sparely drawn. Dialogue is strained and artificial. She uses unusual metaphors and similes some of which work and when they do they are brilliant but others sound silly or clunky and draw attention to themselves instead of to the story. A little bit of a hotch potch of creative writing class type of vignettes that fail to make a mature whole.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Eleanor TOP 500 REVIEWER on 13 Mar. 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In this collection of short stories, Samson focuses on the emotional lives and relationships of a loosely-connected group of middle-class people, all having some association with an English seaside town.

This is very cleverly done, with someone who was previously a main character appearing later as a walk-on part in someone else's life, and vice-versa. For example, we see the same woman through the eyes of a shy piano tuner in one story and her over-critical mother in another. Neither portrayal gives the whole picture, but taken together a character emerges. This mirrors real life, with all the various roles people assume and the various biased positions from which they are viewed. The recurring cast of characters has a cumulative effective; for example, in the first line of 'Ivan Knows', a story appearing near the end of the collection, the reader's enjoyment is increased, and curiosity piqued, by their knowing who both Ivan and Lucy are:

"Ivan almost choked on his candyfloss when he saw Laura Idlewild flying past in her blue bra."

The solipsism of the teenager wittily and accurately described in 'At Arka Pana' is offset by the reader's knowledge of her mother's assessment of her in 'Leaving Hamburg', and it is a joy to meet the afore-mentioned Ivan in 'Ivan Knows', having only seen him fleetingly as a small child in other stories. Themes as well as characters recur, being picked up and examined from all sides, and I think this is a book that will repay re-reading.

The stories include first person and third person narration, with one of the best, 'The Birthday Present', being addressed to a 'you' with whom the narrator is obsessed. The identity of the addressee is witheld, although its nature gradually dawns on the reader.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sukie VINE VOICE on 2 Jan. 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Perfect Lives is a book of short stories set mostly in the same seaside town, featuring characters who weave in and out of each other's narratives. On the outside, many of their lives do appear perfect and the characters may seem to be part of happy families, but beneath the surface lie secrets, doubt, unhappiness and hurt. A lonely woman berates herself for not loving her baby in the way that she feels she ought to; the peace of a Sunday morning in an expensive sea-front home is disturbed when an egg is shoved through the letterbox; a selfish mother needs to tell her daughter something that will change her life for ever; the woman scorned obsesses about her ex-husband and his new partner.

Samson populates her stories with strong, vivid characters, and music and art are threaded through the narratives. Her writing is clever, observant and subtle, packed with beautiful and original imagery, and giving just enough detail each time that the plot is never over-cooked. I loved the fact that a minor character in one story becomes a major character in a later story, so that I found myself constantly flicking back to reread sections, seeing them in a different light. I closed the book wanting to reread the whole collection again.

This is a wonderful book - like a selection of artfully posed photographs which give a tantalising glimpse into interesting people's lives, you are left wanting more. Enjoy!
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