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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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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.
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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.
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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.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 4 July 2013
No Spoilers.

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

4 Stars.
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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 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.
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on 10 October 2015
I found this to be a thought provoking and fascinating read. As someone who has worked in mental health for 30 years, I think Rachel Joyce has depicted the tyranny of OCD both accurately and sensitively.
Byron Hemmings is an unusual boy from the start. Things concern him, especially any disruption to the natural order of things; and when his best friend casually mentions that two seconds were being added to the clock to balance recorded time with the natural movement of the earth, Byron becomes obsessed with this.
One can't describe the tale as entertaining, although there is always humour - even sometimes in tragedy - but this is certainly a compelling read.
I will definitely be looking out for more of her writing!
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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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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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I'm one of the very few people I know who hasn't read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, but I wasn't really attracted to it. But the premise of this story drew me in:

In 1972, two seconds were added to time. It was in order to balance clock time with the movement of the earth. Byron Hemming knew this because James Lowe had told him and James was the cleverest boy at school. But how could time change? The steady movement of hands around a clock was as certain as their golden futures.

Then Byron's mother, late for the school run, makes a devastating mistake. Byron's perfect world is shattered. Were those two extra seconds to blame? Can what follows ever be set right?

Eleven year old Byron - a day boy at Winston House private school - learns from his friend James about the two seconds, and becomes obsessed by the potential effect it might have, "the difference between something happening and not happening". His fears become reality when his mother Diana knocks down a child when crossing a council estate and is apparently unaware that anything has happened. Byron and James launch 'Operation Perfect' to investigate the accident and protect Diana from the consequences.

In alternating chapters, there is a present day story about Jim, who lives in a camper van and works in a supermarket cafe, having spent years in Besley Hill psychiatric hospital. Jim's life is ruled by OCD rituals, greeting his possessions and sealing up his van. His life is changed when he befriends the larger than life Eileen, and he begins to believe that his life could be a great deal better.

The link between the two stories - both equally absorbing - only become clear towards the novel's end and is wonderfully handled. The characters leap off the page throughout - Diana's attempts to fit into the world of mothers of children at Byron's school, the difficult relationship with her husband, her brush with the world outside her class, Jim with his mental health issues and the wonderful Eileen. This is an uplifting read - despite the moments of extreme sadness - and I found it entrancing. Full of people who don't really fit into their worlds, it leaves you with hope and a belief in the healing power of love.

Maybe I should read Harold Fry after all - I really like Rachel Joyce's writing style, and I loved this one.
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