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Perfect Lives [Paperback]

Polly Samson
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

5 May 2011
In an English seaside town, lovers and children, young men and middle-aged women, weave in and out of each other's lives and stories. A mother is tormented by her daughter's tattoo; another only pretends to love her baby. A wife stalks her husband and his new lover; a broken egg through a letterbox tells a story that will not go away; the cat thinks he knows best. Threaded throughout are longings for love and poignant disappointments, surprising pleasures and temptations. Some will fall but some, like the small boy at the circus who sees his babysitter fly past on a trapeze wearing little more than a blue bra and spangles, will retain their feeling of awe. PERFECT LIVES, follows Polly Samson's rapturously received first collection, LYING IN BED. They are rueful, knowing, witty, poignant, bashful, bold. Her genius is in the nuance.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Virago Press (5 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860499937
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860499937
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 12.3 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 183,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`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

* Captivating stories from the ever-brilliant Polly Samson

* 'An unexpected combination of romp and classical: thought-provoking, sassy and comforting' Ali Smith

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So cleverly written! 11 Oct 2013
By a crane
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a series of short stories set in a seaside town, which are all very cleverly interwoven into each other. In fact there are so many subtle links between the stories, once I had finished the book, I then re-read it immediately to remind myself of all the links - and also picked up on some I had missed the first time around. I have never re-read a book immediately after finishing! I'm a big fan! Have also read Lying in Bed and Out of the Picture. Highly recommended.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly Observed 14 Nov 2010
By Sally Zigmond VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This collection of short stories burrows beneath the surface of other people's lives. The first story 'The Egg' introduces us to Celia Idlewild, who seems to have everything; perfect life; perfect house; perfect children as well as the most exquisite grand piano.(Pianos feature a lot in this collection.) Only, the more we read, the more we see that happiness and perfection is only a thin veneer coating the reality of her life. (Even the splendid piano has a dark secret.) Subsequent stories introduce us to people whose lives touch those of the Idlewilds.There's Richard, now a piano tuner, whose crippling stage-fright destroyed a promising career as a concert pianist and the woman he meets whose love of her wreck of an old piano, alters his perspective on perfection. We also meet people he has known in the past and see life through their eyes. In other stories the author peels away the layers of a humdrum marriage but also reveals its close intimacy.She is particularly adept as showing us how children think and feel of the way adults behave. In every story, the more that is stripped away, the more detail is added to these people's live, so much so that I immediately had to go back to the beginning and reread each story.

Polly Samson's prose has a deceptively light touch, which to me is the mark of a great writer. She tells you all you need to know without labouring the point. If you like your fiction spare; fiction that requires readers to make the connections for themselves, then 'Perfect Lives' is for you. Sometimes bleak, but ultimately uplifting, these stories remind us of the eternal resilience of the human spirit.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An engrossing collection of short stories 13 Mar 2011
By Eleanor TOP 500 REVIEWER
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
4.0 out of 5 stars What lies beneath perfect lives... 26 Jan 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This collection of short but sometimes connected stories by Polly Samson reveals the dramas and tragedies that lie beneath apparently perfect middle class lives. The writing is good and flows well - it is quite dense - every word is carefully chosen and so demands close reading. Samson shows herself to be adept at weaving drama and tension into this mode of storytelling. Characters and motifs recur and the whole collection generates an aura of sadness and disatisfaction which is rather haunting. I loved the story "Remote Control" which is about a woman and her cat's observations of family life. "The Man Across The River" is a tale of a mother perturbed by memories of an incident in her childhood. There is much more besides. I'm not usually a fan of short stories, but these were interesting and memorable, and definitely worth a look.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a bit of an hors d'oeuvre 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyed it and masterfully written
Just finished this book today.
Thoroughly enjoyed it and masterfully written.
Very clever observation of life and depth of characters. Read more
Published 21 days ago by irene
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly flawed.
I have enjoyed Polly Samson's yet another of Polly Samson's books. This one is just as riveting as her last. Very cleverly orchestrated. Loved it.
Published 3 months ago by Catherine Stalborg
5.0 out of 5 stars brillant!
Truly refreshing stories of real life characters and set by a beautiful setting. Each character shares stories and then reappear in a new plot. Brillantly written. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Linda A. Penner
2.0 out of 5 stars Not much to add
I found this collection too slight to be of consequence. The characters were very forgettable and samey and it was hard to sympathise with their problems. Read more
Published on 20 Dec 2011 by Miss Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Good short stories
Well written short stories, with interesting characters and locations. I love the little links between each one, and look forward to more from the same author.
Published on 6 Dec 2011 by Helen
4.0 out of 5 stars A very nice surprise
I actually bought this book on a whim because it fell under the "Customers who bought this book also bought......." without first reading the reviews. Read more
Published on 28 Aug 2011 by R. C. S
3.0 out of 5 stars A book about middle class women, for middle class women
A set of 11 intertwining short stories about (upper) middle class people in England - they seem perfect on the outside but underneath they are not. Read more
Published on 23 Aug 2011 by Dizzydays
5.0 out of 5 stars A real find
A wonderfully enjoyable book of short stories which are self contained but inter connected. The stories are about modern people, families, their interactions and every day lives. Read more
Published on 6 Mar 2011 by Four Violets
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, but...
This is a set of short stories, loosely linked by some of the characters. The individual voices did not come across particularly well, but some of the mind pictures worked for... Read more
Published on 9 Feb 2011 by R. F. Stevens
3.0 out of 5 stars A Pleasing Read - even though nothing really happens.
I took this book on a cruise to to laze away the hours. It worked. The book of short stories of middle class lives that sometimes inter-connect is an o.k. affair. Read more
Published on 3 Feb 2011 by Mr Paul Savory
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