Book Review: Perfect by Rachel Joyce


Rating: 3 / 5

In the early 1970s, two extra seconds were added to time.  Byron and his childhood best friend James think it is those two additional seconds which are to blame for the events which changed the course of his future.  On the day that the seconds were added, Byron’s mother takes a different route, one that cuts through Digby Road.  Byron is adamant that his mother couldn’t see clearly through the fog and accidentally hit a little girl on a bicycle.  This one mistake has resonating consequences for both Byron and his family, though it is only Bryon who blames the accident on the added time.

Perfect is told in two parallel timelines.  There is the past, which is the event on that fateful day and the months afterwards, and the story in the present time.  Currently, Jim is coping with a severe case of OCD.  He has been in and out of mental institutions since his late teenage years, and while he is a social pariah, he is independent and taking each day as it comes.  It is interesting to see how the two stories are connected, and to see how one event profoundly effects two 11 year-old boys from affluent families. Perfect was more like a slow burn; it didn’t start off with a bang, but it kept inching along and building momentum.  I have to admit Perfect kept me guessing- what happened to Jim to send him to various mental institutions?  What happened to Beverly?

For me, though, Perfect was interesting, but not satisfying.  I loved the themes Joyce explored, such as class distinction, human imperfections, and the struggles regarding mental illness.  However, I felt that Perfect left me with too many questions and not enough answers.  I didn’t get a good grasp on Diana’s character.  It is understandable that in marrying Seymour, she ascended to a higher social status and was uncomfortable with that fact.  But I could not understand why she let herself be manipulated by Beverly.  Even Byron understood that Beverly’s intentions were not pure, and that she was taking advantage of her daughter’s supposed injury.

The addition of two seconds was the driving force of the novel, but in the end, it didn’t seem that important.  Byron’s mother, Diana, is a complex character, and I would have liked to see her developed more.  Seymour is another character that seems to have a profound effect on Bryon at the end, but throughout the book he is basically an absentee father. Though the events in the 70s were more interesting and gripping, I ultimately found that Jim’s struggles were more emotional and I ended up liking Jim’s storyline better.

The Bottom Line: I seem to be in the minority on this, but Perfect was only a mediocre  read for me. Besides Jim, none of the characters grabbed me, or were very likable, and the gravity of the time aspect felt overly forced.  However, if you haven’t read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Joyce’s debut novel,  I can’t recommend that book enough.

Other books by Rachel Joyce:

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

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