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On a foggy spring morning in 1972, twelve-year-old Byron Hemming and his mother are driving to school in the English countryside. On the way, in a life-changing two seconds, an accident occurs. Or does it? Byron is sure it happened, but his mother, sitting right next to him in the car, has no reaction to it. Over the course of the days and weeks that follow, Byron embarks on a journey to discover what really happened-or didn't-that fateful morning when everything changed. It is a journey that will take him-a loveable and cloistered twelve-year-old boy with a loveable and cloistered twelve-year-old boy's perspective on life-into the murkier, more difficult realities of the adult world, where adults lie, fathers and mothers fight without words, and even unwilling boys must become men. By the end, Byron will finally reconcile the dueling realities of that summer, a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit and the power of compassion.
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.
– Almost Perfect
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