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 did finish the book 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.