Perfect by Rachel Joyce

The problem with having a holiday that gives me plenty of time to read is the resulting backlog of reviews to write. With this review of Perfect by Rachel Joyce, I’m thankfully up-to-date.

Despite the title, Perfect is not a perfect book – it was however a perfect beach read. The blurb reads –

“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?”

I was smitten from the opening paragraph which mentions both the year I was born* and the fabulous Eurovision contest –

“In 1972, two seconds were added to time. Britain agreed to join the Common Market, and ‘Beg, Steal or Borrow’ by the New Seekers was the entry for Eurovision. The seconds were added because it was a leap year and time was out of joint with the movement of the Earth. The New Seekers did not win the Eurovision Song Contest but that had nothing to do with the Earth’s movement and nothing to do with the two seconds either.”

From there unfolds two separate stories – Byron’s set in the 1970s and Jim’s story, set in the present.

When an author presents a story as a dual narrative, it is almost impossible for the reader not to compare the two – at the very least until the point where the stories meet. In this case, the tension and suspense in Byron’s story is impeccable. Your sense of foreboding grows and grows, enhanced by the intermittent shifts to Jim’s story and by the exceptionally well drawn characters of Diana and Seymour (Byron’s parents) and Barbara (Diana’s friend).

Without giving away the focus of Jim’s story, it’s worth noting how clever Joyce is as a writer – Byron’s story is about stressful events that are largely out of his control, the supporting characters create the tension. In contrast, Jim’s story is about his own personal anxiety – the characters around Jim serve to strip the tension away. As a result, the reader is see-sawing between real drama and perceived drama.

Joyce has a neat, clipped style that I liked –

“The other mothers were not like her. They wore crochet tank tops and layered skirts and some of them even had the new wedge shoes. Byron’s father preferred his wife to dress more formally. With her slim skirts and pointy heels, her matching handbag and her notebook, Diana made other women look both oversized and under-prepared.”

‘I know what I’m doing Byron, I don’t need help’. Every word of Lucy’s sounded like a neat little attack on the air.”

“It was strange to be on the forbidden side of the fence after all this time. It was like being in his father’s study, where the air grew sharp edges.”

I only had one issue with Perfect – I guessed fairly early in the book how the narratives were linked but then didn’t like the detail in the way this was played out.

3/5 Despite this score, Perfect is a book I will recommend to lots of people – it’s a page-turner, crosses genres and is certainly a good way to fill a weekend.

Serve Perfect with tomato soup as a tribute to the delightful scene where Byron and his mother lunch on soup and prawn cocktails “…when it was not quite lunchtime. It was was like jumping out of ordinary time and seeing the world from a fresh perspective.” As I’m not a fan of plain tomato soup (it makes my throat hurt – weird but true), try this recipe for tomato and roasted red pepper soup.


*only relevant because I have a bit of an obsession with number sequences, as do the characters Byron and Jim.

6 responses

  1. Tomato soups is one of my favorites, but everyone else in the family hates it. The bread in that picture looks delicious.

    I’d give this one a chance if I saw it at a used book sale. I do like number sequences…

    • My family all like tomato soup but as I don’t (and I’m the cook) we never have it – the privilege of being the boss of the kitchen.

      If you come across this book, pick it up. It’s a quick read and Byron’s story is brilliant – sure there’s a movie in there somewhere.

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