40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2014
I loved Rachel Joyce’s first novel, ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’, but found her second one harder to get through.
On the one hand, we follow the lives of Byron, his family and his friend James over the course of a summer in the 1970’s. An accident, two additional seconds and a childish need to right a wrong will have devastating effects on the lives of everyone involved.
In the other, Jim cleans tables at a café. Having been in and out of psychiatric care all his life, he keeps his head down and avoids contact with others as much as possible. He lives alone, and only by following a strict regime of rituals and routine does he feel safe.
These two threads weave together, until the truth behind what happened in 1972 is finally revealed.
For me, ‘Perfect’ lacked pace and was a bit slow moving. I also didn’t feel the same levels of connection to the characters as in Rachel Joyce’s last novel, and I found Byron and James especially hard to relate to. Maybe if I hadn’t read ‘Harold Fry’ and had such high expectations I would have enjoyed it more. But that doesn’t change the fact that I actually found some parts of this novel a little dull. A large part of the book is set in the 70’s, and something about the language, the setting and the way it was written just didn’t capture my imagination. I enjoyed the alternate storyline with Jim a lot more.
When it got to the closing chapters, and the storylines started to come together, it finally turned into the kind of book I wish I’d been reading all along. I didn’t see the twist coming, and when it did, it was fantastic. It was hard-hitting and emotional – and really highlighted the fact that the ripple effects of just one moment can completely change the course of someone’s life.
Although I really enjoyed the ending, it definitely wasn’t a happy book, and I turned the last page feeling more than a little disheartened. It really brought home the effects that depression and mental illness can have if they’re ignored and not addressed – not just on the person themselves but also on the people around them.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I've heard so much about "Perfect", and here I am, giving it 2 stars. The premise is so mystifying, so pregnant with drama and things to come: in 1972, two seconds are added to time, and these two seconds are seeds to all the things to come. Ah Rachel Joyce, I wish you would have done something dramatically different with those 2 seconds.
The book focuses on Byron and James, two privileged boys attending an independent school in the middle of nowhere. James is the smart one, perhaps a bit distracted and nerdy, it is James who shares his knowledge about 2 extra seconds with Byron. And Byron, overweight and best friends with his mother Diana, a beauty with a mysterious past (or so we are lead to believe), starts to believe that 2 extra seconds could not bring anything good into the world. What if something happens? And indeed it does. The plot sounds pretty straightforward, the narrative is evocative and you are just waiting for the twist.
Alternating chapters revolve around an old man Jim, damaged character whose is living in a van and does not remember (or does not want to remember) much about his past, and who is busy counting his ones ant twos.
So, here we are, Byron, James, Jim. And Diana, who tries hard (or does she?) to be a perfect wife, who refuses to be one of the other "mothers", who is scared of her husband Seymour and who starts to hang out with an unlikely friend Beverley after an accident that happened in the 2 extra seconds of time one sunny spring day.
It all sounds very compelling in the review, but does not open up beautifully on the paper. I felt Rachel Joyce was trying hard to make a book a gripping read on manipulation and friendship and relationships and our choices, but it all came out a bit rigid and stiff, the one character who entertained me was Beverley (and, less so, Eileen), the one and only lively person in the narrative, a solid presence.
Overall, I found "Perfect" to be unclear, rambling and miserable (without redemption). While the author wrote knowingly about the boys, I found her descriptions of Jim and his encounters with the world quite patchy and laborious, especially his relationship with Eileen - completely unbelievable.
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on 22 December 2013
This is a story about time. How a few seconds can alter lives forever.
Byron Hemming is concerned after his friend James tells him that two seconds are going to be added to time. He becomes convinced that this is unnatural and is sure to result in some disastrous consequences. He is not wrong. After he inadvertently causes an accident, his life begins to unravel.
This accident will forever alter the lives of an array of characters; Byron and James, Diana and Seymour (Byron's mother and father), and a little girl and her mother (Jeanie and Beverley) from the wrong side of the tracks.
In alternating chapters we are introduced to a middle-aged man named Jim who is battling both severe mental illness and the demons from his past. You sense that somehow these two stories are connected, and I was so sure I had it figured out until Part 3 when I realised all my expectations and assumptions were incorrect (in a good way).
This was a very good story, and yet I found it so uncomfortable to read. It was like waiting for a horrific accident you know is going to happen, but you don't know when or how. And there is nothing anyone can do to change it. Beverley was so manipulative and the most unsympathetic character I have met in a long time, despite her unfortunate social situation. I was really hoping her scheming would lead to her own undoing.
And poor James and Byron, despite their good intentions, their interference just made matters worse for everyone.
The looming catastrophe was shocking, but not in the way I expected, almost as if the entire story was a red herring. Part three felt a bit anti-climatic, but I liked the way it slowed down towards the end.
SPOILER: I really liked the way the alternating chapters stopped once Byron felt whole again. It was a clever and subtle literary device.
Rachel Joyce is clearly a gifted writer. As the novel progresses you can see Diana and Byron slowly unravelling and looking back I had to ask: could Diana's inaction and fear regarding Beverley and her manipulation have lead to her undoing?
Perfect poses some very interesting social questions regarding gender roles, class and ultimately mental health.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 2 September 2014
The more I read of Rachel Joyce the more I think that her long involvement with theatre has been behind her ability to create such credible characters. I was irritated by Beverley, frustrated by Diana and wanted to give 'Jim' a big hug and tell him it would all be alright in the end. Then along came Eileen.
Wonderful, wonderful stuff with a clever denouement. Joyce's powers of description are like nothing else that I have read. Quite how she manages to come up with so many creative images that totally avoid what could very easily be cliche I don't know.
Can't wait for next month and her new novel.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
It's very likely that, like me, you are interested in this book because you loved Joyce's debut - The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
It's always a bit of a risk, taking a chance on an unknown author. But Joyce has guaranteed herself a willing and eager audience after creating the wonderful Harold.
Perfect is a very different book to her first. That's not to say it's not as good. I think it's probably better in fact. Structurally, character development and reveals, use of chronology, social comments, all feel superior and more mature. That said, I may still say Harold still trumps it in my mind for its likeability and wonderful central idea.
Perfect is a darker story. Centring on Byron and James, two young boys in the 1970s, it follows them on the day two seconds are added to time and what happens after events during those two seconds can't be taken back. There are some wonderful adult characters - both Byron's parents are fantastic creations, his father an old-fashioned, stern and cold man, his mother a loving, more carefree person to whom Byron feels protective.
I didn't really feel much of a sense of the period through the book, the occasional cultural and fashion reference aside, but it's a story that could take place in any era. A second story runs alongside Byron's, that of an adult called Jim who has been bouncing back and forth from some sort of mental institution and trying to make a life for himself wiping tables in a cafe and forming relationships with his co-workers.
There are a few little shocks and a few pauses for thought, some memorable characters and in general, some excellent writing.
Don't expect more of the same from Harold Fry - but that's not a bad thing. For me, it's lovely to see writers exploring different genres, and Perfect is a very powerful read.
Review of a Netgalley advance copy.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2013
I read this because I was interested in the plot, in 1972 two seconds are added to time and something happens that has repercussions for many years afterwards. Sadly I did not find this as enjoyable as I thought I would, I found it extremely slow to start with and I really struggled to get into it and I nearly gave up. I did not give up and after about 200 pages it does pick up and I enjoyed the rest of this novel. The chapters alternate between 1972 and the future and gradually it becomes clear what all the repercussions are for the family involved. I did not really get a connection to any of the characters and did not find much of it believable which I think is why I struggled with this so much. It was a good read just not a perfect read although I really enjoyed the very last twist at the end, it was definitely welcome.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 September 2014
I was very much looking forward to the publication of Joyce's second novel after thoroughly enjoying 'The unlikely pilgrimage of Harald Fry' which was my favourite book of 2012. I had high expectations for her second novel believing that Joyce would once again contact with me at an emotional level. Unfortunately, this connection happens at far too late a point in the novel. I spent a considerable part of this book wondering what the story was really about and was I finding it really entertaining as a novel should do. It's only the last few chapters the message becomes clear. By this stage I was more than ready to exit stage left.
35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Rachel Joyce's eagerly anticipated novel has quite a hard act to follow after the success of the author's debut novel: The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry and I am pleased to say that her second novel does not disappoint.
This new story begins in the summer of 1972 and focuses on eleven-year-old Byron, and his friend, James, who are both day boys at Winston House, a private school, set on the edge of the moors, somewhere in England. In 1972, we are told, two seconds were to be added to time in order to bring the clocks in line with the movement of the Earth, and these two extra seconds absolutely terrify Byron, a sensitive and imaginative boy, who worries that something immense will happen in those two seconds. He shares his worries with his mother Diana, who is a lovely, but rather distracted woman, who tells Byron that two seconds are nothing. "That's what nobody realises" answers Byron "Two seconds are huge. It's the difference between something happening and not happening...It's very dangerous." And Byron tells himself he was right to be worried, because shortly afterwards, when Diana is driving him and his sister to school one morning in her smart new Jaguar (bought for her by her rather pompous and mostly absent husband) an accident occurs and Diana drives off without noticing what she has done. Byron is distraught; he thinks the incident occurred at exactly the moment that the two seconds were added to time and, after discussing the incident at length with his friend James, upon whose intelligence Byron relies, the two boys concoct 'Operation Perfect' in order to investigate the accident and to protect Diana from any possible repercussions. But somehow the plan does not go quite the way the two boys envisaged, resulting in surprising and far-reaching consequences which have a marked effect on both boys' futures. (No spoilers).
In the present day and running alongside the story set in 1972, we read about Jim, a middle-aged man who, having spent years in Besley Hill, a psychiatric hospital, is now living in a camper van and working in a supermarket cafe. Jim has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and when he is not working, he spends most of his time going through his rituals, tapping and greeting each of his possessions, locking and unlocking his door, and sealing every aperture inside his van. Most nights, by the time he has finished his rituals, poor Jim has only four hours left to sleep - but he absolutely must do this in order to feel safe. Resigned to living his life on his own, Jim is, therefore, surprised when he meets Eileen, a tall, big-boned, titian-haired woman, with a raucous laugh and very ripe language, who seems to be interested in starting a friendship with him. Jim begins to feel there may be a future for him after all. But who exactly is Jim? And what does his predicament have to do with the unusual events of 1972? Obviously I shall leave that for prospective readers to discover.
I very much enjoyed 'Perfect' and read it practically in one siting immersed in the story of Jim, Diana, Byron and James. The author's characters are well-drawn and I found it easy to feel a real sympathy for Diana, who is out of her depth with the snobbish mothers at Byron's private school, and trying too hard to fit into the mould that Byron's socially aspirant father insists upon. The relationship between Byron and James was beautifully depicted and I was amused by their conversations, mostly carried out in a mixture of French and English, and touched by their evident affection for each other; I also felt that Rachel Joyce handled Jim's mental health issues with warmth and empathy. It must be said, that with some of the areas covered in this novel, this could not be described as a light, happy read - but although very sad in places, in no way did I find it depressing - it's a heart-warming, emotive and bittersweet tale about those who may not entirely fit in with others around them; it's about the mistakes people make; and it's about people who have been damaged by the past. With a rather neat little twist right at the end of the story, this novel is also, importantly, about hope and about the healing power of friendship. Recommended
on 18 September 2015
This book is not so much about time, and the impact of “an extra two seconds” being added to the year 1972. It is about how this event became a fixation for 11 year old Byron and caused catastrophe. In fact he was unaware of it until his friend James mentioned it and he hung on to it with an obsession.
The story is split into two sections – the summer of 1972 when the pivotal event takes place, and the winter of 2013 (the present day) when we meet Jim, who is in his 50s and whose life is controlled by rituals linked to his OCD and we see what impact that event ultimately had on the lives of Byron and James. Jim has spent over 40 years in a mental institution and is such a sad character, I felt so cold and depressed whilst reading his chapters. Through his work in what seems like Morrison’s Café though, he meets people and gradually becomes able to talk about his past and relate to others in a normal way. I felt the description of a character with OCD was well done, but so realistic that I felt emptied and very down whilst I read it. Maybe that is the sign of a good writer?
The title of the book represents the outward appearance of the well-to-do Hemmings family – Byron, his little sister Lucy, mother Diane and overbearing, Victorian father Seymour. Seymour is a banker, absent from the family, controlling, domineering and cold. His wife is a nervous wreck around her much-older husband, and his control is such that he even rapes her to teach her a lesson. She dresses to suit him in a prim, old-fashioned way and it is clear that this is not the real her; the scene on Lucy’s birthday when she dresses in a poppy-red dress and has fun at the seaside with the children was so joyful, and only emphasised this contrast.
Diane has a secret about her past which is so well-kept, we as readers aren’t even privy to it. This left me frustrated at the end of the book as I wanted to know what made Diane the way she was. I felt that the sickening behaviour of her husband were only part of the drivers behind her personality and something else must have happened to her, particularly as she reveals she married Seymour very quickly; possibly to escape something else? It was annoying not to be able to find out what, so I had to use my imagination. These elements of her personality make her suggestible which is her ultimate downfall, leading others to inexcusably take advantage of her. Even Byron does this to a degree, but not overtly. He is clearly obsessive himself, although he plays the role of the grown-up of the house, organising his mother in the absence of his father.
The book is all about contrasts. The two different segments of the story are set in summer and winter. James and Byron are friends but physically and intellectually very different. Diane doesn’t fit in with the social circle of “school mothers” who are appalling, cliquey snobs. When she does make a “friend” of her own, Beverley, not only are they so different in every way, their personalities change, in fact almost switch over. However she does seem to recapture something of the essence of herself, as she chooses clothes to suit her, but Seymour soon puts a stop to that. Beverley is a calculating and manipulative character but also entertaining – the concert was bizarre, off the wall and quite hilarious. I can’t imagine this preposterous concert happening in reality at all.
Contrast also shows up when the perfect lives and outward appearances disintegrate so that the imperfections come spilling out to overwhelm everyone. The end twist was surprising as I thought I had worked out very early on who was who. Finishing the book, I felt puzzled. I can’t say I enjoyed it as I felt rather depressed when reading it and it was far from uplifting. That said it was very well written and a good job of evoking the 1972 summer. However, I am uncomfortable with the use of mental health as a plot device. I would have given 2 stars but the extra star is for the quality of the writing notwithstanding how much I liked the book (or didn’t).
on 2 June 2015
Not perfect - but I enjoyed it.
Interesting that most of us came to this from having read the Harold Fry thing. Although a different kind of book I think that there is the same kind of wry observation and clever writing that was displayed in the previous book. Like that book the characters and situations are not always fully believable or true to life and events follow an implausible narrative. This though seems to help the book explore themes and topics which it might otherwise be difficult to conjure up. Setting it in the past also helps distance us from the events (it couldn't happen now but maybe then...)
I may have read a different book (or more likely it's just me) from others because I saw this book as an observation of mental illness, and the issue of the added seconds and time more of a plot device. I seem to have known characters like those that appear in these pages. I had a relative now dead who was a very bright child but due to mental illness brought about by a difficult childhood was a bit odd and spent his life travelling from place- to -place working in cafes. Against all the odds he found his lady too (though it didn't have a happy ending). The buttoned up dad clearly damaged by his upbringing and unable to relate to his children; the wife trying to live up to the husbands image and repressing her feelings leading to depression; the exploitative vicars daughter from the council estate who had paid the price for youthful 'deviancy'; the group of friends who aren't really friends - I think I have met them all in my life, and I think there is in this authors work a kind of truth which comes through.
This was a holiday read so I had a bit of time to read it and didn't find the pace too slow. I did struggle at the beginning to work out what was going on, and I'm not sure the authentic voice of childhood was hit - though some of it's confusions did. I spotted the plot twist a long way ahead but it didn't spoil it.