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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 21 March 2015
I enjoyed Rachel Joyce's Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, especially I think due to hearing it read by Jim Broadbent who did a fantastic job of the narration. Consequently, when Dave downloaded Perfect for our Kindle, I looked forward to the read.

Perfect tells the story of one hot summer and its aftermath from the point of view of Byron Hemmings, a 'posh' boy living with his ornamental mother, his younger sister and, at weekends, his father who returns to his family from The City. I liked Joyce's portrayal of this family, their strained relationships and quiet desperation to maintain appearances at any cost. However, as we see them through Byron's eyes, much of the adult interaction is only revealed via misunderstood eavesdropping. I thought the most interesting character was the mother, Diana, and I would have preferred to follow her instead. I didn't think Byron's childhood friend, James, was realistic and found his pretentiousness irritating. And Beverley started out well, but then went way over the top.

Alternating with Byron's summer, we learn about Jim, a man who has mental health issues resulting in a need to observe repetitive rituals and an inability to easily communicate. Jim is portrayed very sympathetically and I think Joyce created a memorable character here. She manages to be humorous but without laughing at him which is tricky to do.

Unfortunately, I thought the ending did get too schmaltzy and relied on an overly convenient coincidence for a feel-good factor. Overall, I was a bit disappointed, probably due to having had too high expectations. Perfect is a nicely written book with good pace and an original storyline, but too many events were unbelievable and I found this frequently distracted me.
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“Sometimes it is easier, he thinks, to live out the mistakes we have made than to summon the energy and imagination to repair them”

Perfect is the second novel by bestselling British author, Rachel Joyce. In the heat of the 1972 English summer, Byron Hemmings, an intense and thoughtful eleven-year-old boy, is worried. His best friend (and the smartest boy in school), James Lowe has told him two seconds are to be added to time. He understands it is necessary, but can’t shake a feeling of terror. When those two seconds appear to result in a car accident involving Diana Hemmings’ perfect Jaguar, Byron worries incessantly about the consequences and, despite his best efforts to follow the meticulous plans James makes, his known universe begins to unravel.

Joyce uses two narrators to tell her story: young Byron relates the events of that 1972 summer; Jim, a man in his fifties whose life is governed by rituals, intersperses his narration of his present day life (currently being disrupted by a red-headed cook uttering profanities) with memories of earlier times and how he came to live most of his life in a mental institution. These narratives approach a common point, gradually revealing the summer’s tragic conclusion.

Joyce renders the feel of the seventies summer and the present day winter with great skill. Her descriptive prose is often breathtaking: “The sun was not yet fully risen and, caught in the low weak shaft of light, the dew shone silver over the meadow although the crust of earth beneath was hard and cracked. The ox-eye daisies made white pools on the lower hills while every tree sprang a black leak away from the sun’s light. The air smelt new and green like mint” and “A flock of gulls flew east, rising and falling, as if they might clean the sky with their wings” and “With a clutter of wings a flock of starlings lifts into the air, unravelling and lengthening like black ribbon” are just a few samples.

Her characters are appealing and the reader cannot help having sympathy for their situation: Diana’s feelings of inadequacy, Byron’s need to protect his beloved mother (“Like a splinter in his head, the truth was always there, and even though he tried to avoid it by being careful, sometimes he forgot to be careful and there it was”), Jim’s attempts to be normal (“No one knows how to be normal, Jim. We’re all just trying our best. Sometimes we don’t have to think about it and other times it’s like running after a bus that’s already halfway down the street.”) Byron’s anxiety is palpable and Joyce portrays mental conditions like depression and OCD with both insight and humour.

She gives her characters words of wisdom: “They’re playing with us, aren’t they?.....The gods. We think we understand, we’ve invented science, but we haven’t a clue. Maybe the clever people are not the ones who think they’re clever. Maybe the clever people are the ones who accept they know nothing” and “Sometimes caring for something already growing is more perilous than planting something new”. On more than one occasion, the reader may well be moved to tears. Fans of Joyce’s work will not be disappointed and newcomers will want to seek out her other books. A moving and uplifting read.
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VINE VOICEon 21 March 2014
I adored Rachel Joyce's Harold Fry and was looking forward to seeing what she would do next.
This story splits between two times, which is an overused structure in literary fiction. 1976 when a major event occurs and the present day when we try to make sense of the consequences of what happened all those decades ago.
Byran and Jim are the main characters in each of the time zones and, whilst it is all written as third person, the reader gets right into the heads of each of them. In particular, the description of their anxieties comes across very clearly and they both have a feeling of being old fashioned oddities in their time. There are also some beautiful descriptions of their surroundings.
The chapters are short and alternate between the characters. This meant that the start of the book was a bit unsettling as they both took some time to establish themselves. Towards the end of the book the length of the chapters increased which I thought could have been done the other way around, allowing the characters more time to breathe at the beginning.
The plot is great and the story darkens as various twists and turns are revealed. The ending is plausible and satisfying but the lead up to it is a bit rushed with a huge amount being crammed into the final 30 pages.
Harold Fry was a hard act to follow and RJ does a pretty good job but can't seem to resist using a format which has ceased to be unusual. I hope she can find something unique again for her next book.
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on 7 March 2014
can lead to a change in the gravity of adult relationships. This book reminded me of Michael Frayn's 'Spies', where the actions of the children lead to an eventual breakdown of all the characters. In 'Perfect'. In 1972, it is an addition of 2 seconds to the time, by the Government, that causes events to unfold into tragedy and mental illness. How well Jim's OCD is portrayed in the present day, how harrowing is the treatment he receives, the reader will have to reach the end of this book to discover what has caused this.
Diana, Byron's mother, is so like another Diana, no-one could fail to recognise her. Beautiful, correct, lonely in the large house in the countryside, with a cold unfeeling controlling husband, mixing with the 'wrong' people. Yet, she tries so intently to be 'perfect'.
Like other readers, the tension seems almost unbearable and I had to put the book down at intervals to regain some reality. I thought I had guessed the connection between Jim and Byron. I was wrong, but, then again from a different point of view, I was right.
The ending is sad but so true. Redemption beckons, if it is allowed in.
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VINE VOICEon 5 July 2013
Rachel Joyce gave us Harold and now she has given us Byron. Byron lives in a world that does not really exist – although by that I do not mean this is some sort of fantasy novel. Byron is living in a perfect world and everything goes as it should. The hands of time tick away as they should that is until Byron’s friend James at school happens to mention that they are adding two seconds to time to balance with the movement of earth. Why would James make up such a thing, he is the cleverest boy in school and therefore it must be true? Byron has no doubts about it.

Then on a normal day, running slightly behind time, Byron’s mother takes a short cut to school, something his father would never allow, in that moment, everything changes and Byron is convinced it all happened at the same time they added those two seconds. Now the perfect world of Byron no longer exists.

His mother’s frailties are obvious from the start of the novel and they seem to veer down a deadly path as time goes on. She suddenly loses control of the perfect world she has cocooned herself in. Cracks in the marriage, which comes across as far from perfect from the beginning get wider, and both Byron and his sister are sucked into some sort of void. Byron formulates with the help of the very clever James a plan to put everything back as the way it should be. He encourages his mother to revisit the past and put right the wrongs for the future.

However, Byron is only an eleven year old boy has an over active imagination and a friend encouraging his obsession to put things back in a perfect way, has repercussions for the whole family and those outside it and as the book goes on, it became apparent to me that there is no such thing as perfect.

Alternating in chapters throughout the book, is the story of Jim, a man in his late fifties, who is living with a mental health problem. He has found himself back in society and is trying to cope with a normal working life in a cafe at the local supermarket, he needs and wants everything to be perfect. Perfect routine of everything he does, wiping the tables, talking to objects in the correct order, entering his home the right number of times but he learns that perhaps his perfect routine is not perhaps perfect after all.

This book is a challenge to read but if you choose to pick it up stay with it. It has been carefully written and crafted to give the maximum impact and does so with great skill. I kept reading because I could not see where everything was going, I tried to guess what was going to happen, but I was constantly wrong and was surprised at every page turn. It is so different from Harold Fry and for me it was the story of the fragility of life and how we have to accept what is round us, accept those who may be different to us and most importantly accept our non perfect selves.
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on 29 December 2015
So disappointing. Started well but went on and on and on in the middle and I just had to give up, read the last few 'twist' chapters( very poor) and then threw it literally on the floor just now shouting' rubbish' to my wife to whom I had previously indicated this was going to be a good read.
Phew ! I feel better for getting that out.
Not a patch on Harold I'm afraid. Boring and unbelievable characters with a slow motion plot. Forgive me but I was actually hoping that the twist was a big bank heist with the terminator coming in blasting them all in to the past or the future- anything but here. Diana was just so infuriating - get a grip woman and stand up to them both. So contrived I'm afraid. But there you go- on to the .3rd book in Robert Harris's Cicero trilogy I got for Xmas. If it is half as good as the brilliant first two, it will be a classic.
Best wishes. David
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on 24 May 2015
This is a tragic tale, but well told with quirky humour in some of the descriptions that had me laughing out loud. It took a little getting into but once it got going I was drawn right in. James and Byron are best friends and when James explains to Byron that two seconds are to be added into time, this starts a process in Byron’s life that splits everything he knows apart. The story is told in interwoven chapters, from Byron’s viewpoint in 1972 and from Jim’s viewpoint in the present day. Jim is beset with personal problems. He’s been institutionalised and has rituals that he must perform which make him feel safe. When he meets Eileen at work something opens in his heart and he begins to see a world beyond the van that he lives in and the duct tape he uses to seal himself in at night to feel safe. The two stories join up in the denouement with a surprising twist.
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on 11 June 2016
Two seconds of time are going to be added and this will change the life of Byron and his friend James.

This was a book of two halves for me. Part of the story was about one summer when Byron and James were children, and the rest of the story was about Jim.

For me I felt I was plodding along with this book but was determined to finish it. I enjoyed the story of Byron and James better than Jim's story. I wanted to see how it was going to pan out and what was going to happen to Byron's mom. I did guess the sort of twist and it didnt really make the book.

This for me wasn't a brilliant read but there was enough for me to keep going. I haven't read any other books by this author and I am not really inspired to either. This book was ok and was something different for a change, but not for me
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on 10 October 2013
Interesting ... I read 'Perfect' to within the last quarter of the book feeling vaguely saddened that Rachel Joyce's latest book was not a patch on The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry ... and I confess even writing this review in my head, placing it at around a three to four star read ... when; Hey Presto! The book suddenly turned around somewhere in my psyche, and bowled me over !!!

Beautifully written. Turned me from half-bored, into tears in a couple of passages. A Definite FIVE STARS !!!
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on 23 December 2013
The main part of the story is set in 1972 when two school friends try to put right a wrong and begin a chain of events they didn't predict and cannot control. The author is very good at showing us the world through the eyes of a child who doesn't really understand adult emotions. Alternate chapters show us one of the boys forty years later, living in a camper van and wishing the psychiatric hospital hadn't closed. I was glad that these sections are quite short because I didn't enjoy reading them. This mixture of poignancy and gentle, almost whimsical, humour needs a very sure touch and she doesn't quite manage to pull it off. Fortunately, towards the end, the two threads begin to merge and the book moves swiftly towards a satisfying conclusion.
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