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Perfect Love Paperback – Unabridged, 20 May 2005
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"'Modern marriage and its compromises... a terrific, compassionate, compelling novel' Daily Mail; 'Adultery... handled with care and moral intelligence. What a good writer Buchan is' Daily Telegraph; 'A powerful story; wise, observant, deeply felt, with elements all women will recognise with a smile - or a shudder. Very highly recommended' Good Book Guide"
Let me tell you a story of a family, an adultery, a child’s anger and forgiveness . . .See all Product description
Top customer reviews
'Perfect Love' is the story of Prue Valour, a middle-aged woman living in happy domesticity with her banker husband Max and teenage daughter Jane in a small Hampshire village near Winchester. Prue is, from the start, clearly an extremely good woman. She married Max, twenty years her senior, after his first wife left him and almost immediately after died in unpleasant circumstances, and uncomplainingly reared Max's difficult daughter Violet, despite Violet's regular unpleasantness to her. Now, with Violet married and living in America, and her own daughter a weekly boarder at a nearby school, Prue devotes a lot of her time to good works. She works part-time in a bookshop, is a leading force in the local Women's Institute and church flower-arranging rota, organizes local charity events and the village Christmas concert, and still finds time to cook delicious food and tend her husband. In her spare time she is (slightly implausibly bearing in mind her almost total lack of qualifications, and the fact she appears to have no publisher and do no detailed research) writing a book on Joan of Arc. A good and happy life then - and Prue can't imagine it changing. But then, said difficult stepdaughter Violet returns from New York with her husband Jamie, another banker, and their baby. And Prue and Jamie find themselves irresistibly attracted to each other. Soon, Prue and Jamie are in the grip of a tumultuous passion, with Prue sneaking off to London whenever she can to meet Jamie in a hotel, and Jamie fantasizing about leaving his wife to marry Prue. Meanwhile Violet is struggling to be a career woman and a mother, and Prue's husband, aware that something is going on, is struggling with his feelings, believing that he shouldn't confront Prue as he somehow owes a moral debt for forcing his first wife Helen to marry him. And to add to the complications, Violet's nanny, a local girl from Prue's village, gets pregnant by her builder boyfriend, and Prue's daughter, aware all is not well at home, develops anorexia. How will these complications resolve themselves?
All credit to Buchan, she does make you want to read on and find out, and her depiction of some of the characters emotions and thoughts is well worked out, and convincing. She's also a mistress of describing suburban middle-class life, in London and in the shires. However, I have to say that the book didn't entirely work for me. I couldn't believe, for example, that Prue, who had seemingly been happy in her marriage, would have an affair with such little guilt, embracing not only passion but 'the power of selfishness' (as she puts it) quite cheerfully. I was never entirely clear what the big attraction - apart from sex - was between her and Jamie, and why she fell for him so much. I also found the constant comparisons between Prue and Joan of Arc rather pretentious and inappropriate: Joan was a religious visionary who believed she was working for God - this is not the same as giving in to an all-consuming physical passion for another woman's husband. Bearing in mind Jamie's relationship to Prue Racine's Phaedra would have been a much better comparison; but Ms Buchan probably assumed most of her readers wouldn't have known this character. I felt that both Prue and Jamie would have felt a lot more guilt over deceiving their partners. The partners themselves I found a little hard to believe in. Max was interesting though I found it hard to quite make him out - did he really love his wife, and was Buchan implying his troubled childhood had emotionally damaged him? - and I didn't believe he would have acted as he did towards Violet's nanny, Emmy. And Violet came across as an almost stereotypically nasty career woman with her lack of maternal feelings and constant self-centredness, though there were moments when one felt sorry for her (I also didn't believe in her name - how many high-flying career women in their thirties are called Violet these days?). And I agree with Roman Clodia that the subplot with the nanny seemed a bit unnecessary. The rather olde-worlde atmosphere of the village felt slightly dated too, though I suppose it made an effective ironic background for Prue's passions.
All in all, a perfectly pleasant light read, and I found the ending quite moving, but this novel is not the profound examination of human nature that it may seem to be from the opening pages.
I didn't much care for the choice of Lesley Duncan as narrator. I thought her voice too unvaried and lacking the strength required to hold my attention properly. I love talking books, but in order for them to have an impact on me, the right narrator must be chosen. Unfortunately, in this case, it wasn't to be.
I liked Prue and her lover James, but felt that there was an awful lot of padding that detracted from this central interest. So Prue is rather oddly writing a biography of Joan of Arc even though she has no training or education for doing this, and the book has long, extended discursions about Joan, who is supposed to be a model of the woman who follows her passions.
Similarly, the sub-story of Emmy, James' nanny was unnecessary. And the respective spouses, Max and Violet, were represented very cruelly. By making them so unnattractive, especially Violet who ticks every box of the bitchy career woman, any moral ambiguity over the issue of adultery was wiped out and the only question was how on earth did poor Prue and James ever manage to stick with their partners in the first place.
So this could have been far better than it was: tauter, more focused, and with a more generous view of people's vulnerabilitities, rather than the forced and unambiguous 'good' and 'bad' characters that we are left with.
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