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Perfect by Rachel Joyce


by Rachel Joyce

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4536123,009 (3.74)21
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    What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn (jayne_charles)
    jayne_charles: Both quirky then-and-now stories

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In 1972, two seconds were added to time because it was Leap Year and because time was ‘out of joint’ with the movement of the Earth.’ It is the addition of these two seconds which causes such upheaval in the life of Byron Hemmings, an imaginative 11-year old boy, and his school friend James. ‘Perfect’ is about the impact of those two seconds, one stiflingly hot summer. Who would have thought that such a small stumble in time could disrupt so many lives?
Rachel Joyce is an accomplished storyteller with a simple style which is deceptively complex. She weaves together Byron’s story with Jim’s, a troubled man who cleans tables in a supermarket café whilst battling his inner demons. Not once does she explain the link between these two stories, allowing the reader’s imagination to suggest possibilities, until right at the end when she surprises us with the truth. Car accidents feature in both strands, but neither car accident is what it seems. Both accidents are catalysts for what comes next.
The voice of the boy/almost teenager Byron is an interesting choice which allows Joyce to show us the inside of his parents’ marriage, without Byron fully understanding what he is seeing. At once he has both a child’s perception, and an adult’s. Joyce trusts the reader to believe or not believe Byron’s interpretation of things.
She has a similarly subtle approach to observation, hinting at the differences between Byron’s mother Diana, and Diana’s new friend Beverley, by how they walk. Diana’s ‘slim heels’ go “clip clip”. Beverley’s sandals follow with a “slap slap.” Diana is a wisp of a character, light, graceful and young, young in comparison with her son. Very young compared with her husband Seymour who dominates the house, despite his absence during the week, with his stern rules of do’s and don’ts. Diana’s car, a Jaguar he bought for her as a means of demonstrating his success, comes to symbolise his power over her. First she accedes to his control, then chafes against it and finally rebels.
Byron watches this with discomfort and uncertainty, unsure who this new mother, this new Diana, is. As his mother grows more mentally frail, he begins unconsciously to echo his father. He doesn’t like Beverley calling his mother ‘Di’ for example. “It was like cutting her in half.” As Diana leaves household tasks undone, he does them for her.
Joyce has a deft way of handling the mood. One moment, light-hearted, then with a sentence she twists the heartstrings and adds another small touch of mystery. Jim learns that having a friend means laughing at things and seeing them through the friend’s eyes, as if the friend is “the part of themselves that is missing.” Do we all have something missing, which is provided by our friends and loved ones, or is it just Jim? And what happened to Jim to mess him up like this?
‘Perfect’ is about the nature of time, starting with the extra seconds and moving onto Diana’s abandonment of clocks. An exploration of whether time can heal a painful past.
Read more of my book reviews at http://www.sandradanby.com/book-reviews-a-z/ ( )
  Sandradan1 | Oct 31, 2015 |
Two seconds of time are going to be added and this will change the life of Byron and his friend James.

This was a book of two halves for me. Part of the story was about one summer when Byron and James were children, and the rest of the story was about Jim.

For me I felt I was plodding along with this book but was determined to finish it. I enjoyed the story of Byron and James better than Jim's story. I wanted to see how it was going to pan out and what was going to happen to Byron's mom. I did guess the sort of twist and it didnt really make the book.

This for me wasn't a brilliant read but there was enough for me to keep going. I haven't read any other books by this author snd I am not really inspired to either. This book was ok and was something different for a change, but not for me ( )
  tina1969 | Oct 4, 2015 |
Another good read from Rachel Joyce. I enjoyed her first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye, and Perfect has a similar pattern of writing. There is a twist at the end.

You read the story and get invested in the characters, seeing things from several very different points of view. Then just near the end key points of information are revealed and everything falls into place. Reading about the best friends, Byron and James, and Byron’s mother Diana who is accurately described as a “poem” you think you know where our characters will end up. Again, just as Joyce did in her first novel, there are twists and you’ll have surprises.

The year is 1972. James Lowe and Byron Hemmings are best friends. They are both intelligent boys attending a prestigious school, their middle to upper class lives plodding along without incident. James is the more science minded of the two boys; he tells Byron about a story he’d read in the paper about the atomic clock not being in sync with the Earth’s rotation. Scientists decided to move the atomic clock up 2 seconds and correct the discrepancy. Byron gets in a quiet panic about this messing about with time and fears life as they know it will be altered in a way with horrific consequences.

One morning on the way to school he thinks he sees his watch hands move backward. He shoves his watch into his mother’s face and she is momentarily distracted, hitting a young girl riding a tricycle. Diana doesn’t see the girl or know about the accident. Byron tells her to continue driving and panics that his mother will be charged. He keeps all this to himself and internalizes his feelings until it builds up and he confides the scene to James. When Byron eventually let it all slip to his mother, Diana, it changes her life. She stops doing everything. There are no hot meals, no buttons sew on clothing, the garden is left to go wild and she is in a depression.

To make amends for the accident and running off, she contacts the parents of the little girl and tries to set things right. Interspersed with this story line are chapters featuring a man named Jim. He suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and is trying to make a life outside of the institution where he had spent the last 38+ years. You are left to wonder through 3/4ths of the book if Jim is in fact James Lowe. I won’t give a spoiler because the way this weaves together in the last two chapters ties up all the loose ends.

If you liked the British prose of Rachel Joyce with her Harold Frye book, you will most likely enjoy this story as well.

Not many food scenes but here are a few items mentioned:

Mushroom vol-au-vent was served at a party hosted by Byron’s parents. His father, Seymour, overhears a guest whispering “New money” to a friend just as he is about to bite into a Mushroom vol-au-vent. It ruined his appetite to know he wasn’t accepted by this elite society.

A benefit concert where the ladies brought Tupperware boxes of salad and cakes. There was coleslaw, Russian salad, deviled kidneys, cheese straws, stuffed grapes, olive, mushrooms and prunes. The food was unpacked at the garden table.

Also mentioned were tomato soup, a prawn cocktail and Turkey supreme.

I made a mushroom vol-au-vent as an appetizer. Recipe may be found at Squirrel Head Manor. ( )
  SquirrelHead | Apr 28, 2015 |
Such a brilliant, quirky book, but then any book that references the Eurovision Song Contest on the very first page is OK with me. It has the faintest suggestion of the supernatural about it: the sense that this is the real world but somehow tilted about its axis. There was some superb detail - the sort of thing that plot-wise was unimportant and yet was everything to the book's tone. Byron's French-speak with his schoolfriend, and his failure to draw someone's face accurately, resulting in him having to draw whiskers on it and pretend he observed a stray cat. The beautiful descriptions of the moorland setting, and the comedy characters Paula and Darren. There is a twist that some may guess - I didn't - and the welcome setting of the 1970s which lent it a pleasant sense of nostalgia. I will definitely seek out this author's other work. ( )
  jayne_charles | Apr 20, 2015 |
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Only when the clock stops does time come to life.
—William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
For my mother and my son, Jo (without an e)
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In 1972, two seconds were added to time.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812993306, Hardcover)

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?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:20 -0400)

In the aftermath of a life-shattering accident in the English countryside in 1972, twelve-year-old Byron Hemming struggles with events that his mother does not seem to remember and embarks on a journey to discover what really did or did not happen.

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