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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 8 February 2009
This novel was for me an introduction to the writing of Australian writer Kate Grenville. It was passed on to me by an Australian Bookcrossing friend, while she was visiting Italy last year and I have been looking forward to reading it since then. I am really glad that she warned me that the characters in this novel are not typical Australians, as they are certainly a strange collection of eccentrics!

In my opinion it took the first two thirds of the book for the story to build, the last third was the most enjoyable. However althought I felt that although the story line was somewhat weak the characters were strongly portrayed especially the protagonists, Douglas and Harley also Felicity the bankers wife and Mr Chang the butcher.
The story is based in and around the bush town of Karakarook, although the two protagonists actually come from out of town. They are a strange pair whom you would never expect to be attracted to each other, but it is between this socially inept couple that romance blossoms! The story is at times as painful and cringe making as it is touching and laugh out loud funny.
There is an old bent bridge in Karakarook and Douglas is there to replace it, whilst Harley is there to save it by helping set up a museum as an attraction to tourists. It is no surprise really that the book felt slow as it is perhaps reflecting the way of life in the Australian bush.
Not one thing about life or the people in Karakarook seems perfect in complete contrast to the title The Idea of Perfection!
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The Idea of Perfection is the fifth novel by Australian author, Kate Grenville. Set in the dying country town of Karakarook, NSW, pop.1374, the story revolves around the Bent Bridge: the Heritage mob (Karakarook Heritage Museum Committee) believes it can attract tourists; the Shire councillors want to tear this now-dangerous construction down. Enter divorcee Douglas Cheeseman, engineer from the Lands Office, in town to tear down the old bridge and start construction of the replacement. A self-confessed bridge bore who suffers from fear of heights, he can see a way to save the old bridge but lacks the guts to do anything about it. The other newcomer in town is Harley Savage, Consultant (Part-time) to the Curator (Textiles) at the Sydney Museum of Applied Arts, here to help establish the Karakarook Heritage Museum on a grant from the Cultural Affairs Board. Descended from famous artists, Harley, who has gone through three husbands, considers herself a danger to anyone who gets too close; she is big and clumsy, and lacks creativity, except when it comes to quilts. Felicity, neurotic wife of Hugh Porcelline, manager of the Karakarook branch of the Land & Pastoral Bank, believes that the local butcher, Alfred Chang, is in love with her. How their lives intersect is made into a mesmerising story by this talented novelist. Grenville's descriptions bring her characters vividly to life and she conveys the feel of the country town and "the bush" so well, the reader almost feels the heat and the flies. City dwellers Harley and Douglas find this town different: "But out here, she could see people went by different rules. You did not just pick out the best bits of life. You took the whole lot, the good and the bad. You forgave people for being who they were, and you hoped they would be able to forgive you. Now and again you were rewarded with the small pleasure of being able to laugh, not uproariously but genuinely, at a small witticism offered by someone who was usually a bore.
More than the heat and the flies, that was what made the bush feel like another country, where anything was possible."
Grenville has the power to made the reader laugh and squirm and think about life and being perfect, or not. Winner of the 2001 Orange Prize, this was a wonderful read, my favourite Grenville book so far, and I think it would make an excellent movie.
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on 11 October 2001
This book starts as languidly as the weather in NSW, and one can almost feel the heat coming out of the pages. The hurts and shattered dreams of two outsiders to a small town are delicately unfurled, and throughout there is a sense of how fragile human emotions are and how easy it is to pretend that life is safer alone, without intimacy. Yet how those yearnings never let us alone. A beautiful exploration of loss and hope.
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on 3 July 2007
I thought that The Secret River was a brilliant book, as was Lilian's Story, but, for me, this is the Kate Grenville I shall remember the best.

It is such an Australian story, in that it nails small town Australia -the look, the feel, the smell, the sounds -perfectly. There are laughs a plenty in many of the small town scenes. I defy anyone reading about the buying of the bucket not to chortle out loud. The central story and theme is universal, but it is Kate Grenville's skilful depictionThe characters (and that includes the poor Bank Manager's wife) are so sympathetically drawn, and their inner turmoils are described with memorable humour and pathos. It really did make me laugh, and then the final chapters describing the love between the two central couples as they all came to terms with their own ideas of perfection moved me to tears.
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on 31 July 2001
This book is a deftly constructed piece and a pleasure to read. Grenville takes the time to illuminate her characters her characters and their environment so that as you read the book you are in a small country town in rural NSW Australia, you feel the heat and flies. You can smell the dust on the road and feel the relief of the shade. By the end of the book you know some of those small town 'characters' that so often lie flat on the page as cliches. The novel also works at a symbolic level with the juxtaposition of the Bank manager's wife to the main characters. And there is a scene where the protagonist swims in the river that is just wonderful and reminds me of the scene in the 'Piano' where the piano sinks in the ocean. I can see why this book won the Orange prize. This book is every bit as good as anything by Dawn Powell or Patrick Hamilton who also create wonderful character studies.
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on 8 December 2002
This is a gorgeous book. The searing heat of Australia can be felt in every page and everything just moves slowly to accommodate it. The two main characters are beautifully drawn and the conclusion well-paced and exactly as you would want it to be. Better than perfection? Definitely!
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on 10 February 2007
Well, The Idea of Perfection, which won The Orange Prize in 2001, WAS a surprise. Having read Grenville's Booker 2006 shortlisted The Secret River a few weeks ago, I picked this up and was expecting more of the same - a historical, beautifully written, immaculately researched tale. The Secret River was gorgeously atmospheric with its detailed descriptions of the lush, wild landscape, and was very moving in its depiction of the struggles between the natives in Australia and the incoming convicts from the UK. It was, unsurprisingly and appropriately, light on laffs.

The Idea of Perfection is almost its polar opposite. It is a contemporary story, frequently very funny, and concentrates far more on the individual personalities of the characters than on any form of global picture of history.

But it is still a wonderfully intelligent book.

The tale follows gawky, socially gauche 55-year-old Sydney engineer Douglas Cheeseman's mission to knock down a condemned bridge in Karakarook, a tiny village in New South Wales with a population of 1374. He meets a 50-year-old woman who is also somewhat of an outsider, Harley Savage. Harley has come into Karakarook from the Applied Arts museum in Sydney to help set up a Heritage museum for the villagers. Both have plenty of ghosts. Douglas is haunted by his ex wife's constant reminders of how boring he is - and he really is, waxing lyrical about cement and bridge loads, but Grenville's sympathetic depiction ensures we see the good in him as well as laughing at his geekiness. Harley hails from a family of artists and, compared with her beautiful and talented younger sister, feels that she has never measured up, being large, ruddy-faced and plain, and lacking conventional artistic talent. She has three sons from three disastrous marriages and is adamant that she wants no more relationships.

Other characters in the village are painted with wicked dexterity, including a vain housewife obsessed with avoiding wrinkles.

The unfolding of events in the village is related with dramatic aplomb and large doses of humour. Grenville manages to imbue even cattle, sheep and dogs with personalities and her description of an awkward first date rivals Brent in The Office Xmas Special's for disastrous hilarity.

Most of all, this is a warm, accepting book that celebrates the right of 'odd' people to find happiness, and its sketching of imperfection approaches perfection. ****1/2
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on 29 January 2015
This was a great book in very quiet, unassuming way, and was all about the journey rather than the destination. Essentially it is a story about life, about how mundaneness, honesty and simplicity can all collide when least expected to put everything in it's place again.

I thought the prose was terrific, capturing so eloquently the little things which often go unsaid, like how we tend to walk awkwardly when we feel we're being watched, or allow a constant stream of negative narrative in our heads to close the door to opportunity. The characters were terrific - very believable, very visual, all people we've come across in our lives at one time or another - and I enjoyed the unfamiliar setting of a backwater town in the Australian outback.

This is definitely a slow burn book that is all about the writing. The plot is nothing more than a snapshot of life itself, but then what more interesting or believable plot is there?
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on 27 May 2014
Finished on 19th April 2014. A slow start, the two main characters didn’t formally meet until over halfway through the book. I enjoyed it more and more as it went on but was a little disappointed with the end. I liked that we got different viewpoints of the same mundane events. I liked the clever subtle links to later happenings – the dog that lies in the dust later becomes attached to Harley, the fire escape next to the Caledonian is convenient for Douglas to use to rescue the tapestry. The book has humour, I liked learning how to be Australian from Mrs Linney. I’ve learnt or revisited Australian slang – stickybeak, chook, she-oak etc. I will try to make a Lamington cake and look up tapestry making. I was moved by the thoughts on suicide, my father a pathologist, was of the same view because of his contact with its victims at inquests. There are no inverted commas to indicate speech so it is not always easy to know whether someone is speaking or thinking. I wasn’t sure about the books place in time, there are no references to current events and no mobile phones which should mean as a novel it will age better. Karakarook is I discover a real place “a small village in New South Wales” according to wiki answers,and it does mean elbow in aborigine. Initially I was puzzled by the title but later felt that it was central to the plot. I think discussion around the title is ideal for a book group. Mrs Felicity Porcelline is flawed perfection and Douglas and Harley end up in perfect harmony? I was also a bit confused about the fire. How did it start? Was it Mr Porcelline’s revenge on Freddy Chang. We find out very little about Harley’s 3 boys she doesn’t think of them when she is drowning.
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on 16 July 2009
After reading "The River", which I loved and was saddened to have it end, a brilliant book, I eagerly snatched up this one and was very disappointed. If this had been the first book of Ms. Grenville's I had read, I would probably have passed up the great experience of "The River" so I'm happy I read them in the order I did.

This book was simply boring. Come on Kate, you've got it in you to write great books. Let's have another "The River"
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