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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly Observed
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...
Published on 14 Nov 2010 by Sally Zigmond

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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
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...
Published on 2 Jan 2011 by Silver Moon Sailor


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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 (Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Perfect Lives (Hardcover)
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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 (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Perfect Lives (Hardcover)
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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. Although this might seem tricksy (and another story, 'At Arka Pana', plays a similar game) by the time the reader is made aware of the object of infatuation their passion equals that of the narrator.

I didn't warm to this book immediately, and in retrospect I think the first story is one of the weakest, with the style appearing too mannered and the subject matter and its relation to the title 'Perfect Lives' rather cliched. But reading on, Samson's wit, unflinching eye, and gift for characterization meant I was soon absorbed; and I closed the book feeling uplifted, having had a glimpse into the lives of a group of people, which although not perfect, have moments approaching perfection.
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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
By 
EllyBlue (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Perfect Lives (Hardcover)
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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
This review is from: Perfect Lives (Hardcover)
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly Observed, 2 Jan 2011
By 
Sukie (South Coast) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Perfect Lives (Hardcover)
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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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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stories to savour, with sensational soundtrack., 1 Dec 2010
By 
Katharine Kirby "Kate" (HELSTON, Cornwall United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Perfect Lives (Hardcover)
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Polly Samson has skilfully created a small world, a community in miniature; that glitters prism like with situations thoughtfully viewed from many angles. Her magical, sparkling prose is entrancing, so please don't gobble this box of delights all at one sitting, enjoy one at a time, maybe before sleep; then put the book aside and think it all through before returning to this top drawer work.

You will be rewarded by worlds within worlds, sharply observant writing and a background of classical music that may tempt you to search out the pieces and play them for yourself. Meistersinger Prelude,Overtures & Preludes / Die Meistersinger Chopin's [ASIN:B0037TTQ4M Chopin: Late Masterpieces (Barcarolle/ Mazurkas/ Nocturnes/ Sonata No.3)]]Barcarolle in F sharp I think is what was implied but please correct me, both roll along behind the stories, adding depth and quality.

`Leaving Hamburg' is exquisite, perfect and haunting. Because of the connections you might find yourself going back to a previous story to enjoy it with deeper understanding. `The Man Across the River' is a truly terrible tale of the commonplace worthy of Roald Dahl. It has the unusual angle of looking at the Greenham Common protests from a child's eye view.

Short stories with musical references are also available from Kazou Isiguro in his Nocturnes selection,Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfalla similar kind of writing and equally satisfying. Jhumpa LahiriInterpreter of Maladies: Stories of Bengal, Boston and BeyondUnaccustomed Earth also creates the same mini scenes that stay in the mind long after reading about them. With Polly Samson's people I ended up really caring about them all and wanting to know more.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I loved this collection, 20 Nov 2010
This review is from: Perfect Lives (Hardcover)
I know that not everyone likes short stories. If, like me, you do, then you must read this collection. Eleven mostly linked stories in which the author never loses your attention. The best short stories are like poems -- not a word out of place or in excess, leaving the reader with an insight that wasn't there, or wasn't so clear, before reading the story. I loved this collection.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual and beautiful stories, 30 Nov 2010
This review is from: Perfect Lives (Hardcover)
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I enjoy compilations of stories where characters, plots and lives are entwined and this is what happens in Perfect Lives. Polly Samson's characters are modern and easy to picture, but sometimes she ends the story on a tenterhook, with something unexplained, and that doesn't always work (The Egg for example). The reader is left to make their own mind up, which sometimes works, but is sometimes unsatisfactory.

Whether Samson is writing about a young woman, a child or a grandmother she has the voice spot on and the characters, perhaps more than the plots which are small incidents in a life, are the real gems in this collection. I'd recommend her work to others and will also seek out her other works.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyed it and masterfully written, 9 July 2014
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This review is from: Perfect Lives (Paperback)
Just finished this book today.
Thoroughly enjoyed it and masterfully written.
Very clever observation of life and depth of characters.
Takes you through a whole gambit of emotions.
Bought it for a holiday read and finished it in a day !
Thankyou Polly -:) xxxxx
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4.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly flawed., 25 April 2014
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This review is from: Perfect Lives (Kindle Edition)
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.
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Perfect Lives
Perfect Lives by Polly Samson (Paperback - 5 May 2011)
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