Reading Bex’s review of ‘Harold Fry’ reminded me that I need to review Rachel Joyce’s latest book, Perfect, (among other things). I have been put to shame by Bex, with her 12 posts of Christmas, as we were both working so hard in the last week or so. New Year’s Resolution then – I must post my reviews more regularly…..
After giving us the story of Harold and Maureen, towards the end of their lives, Rachel Joyce now tells the tale of two boys, growing up in the 70’s. We see their childhood mostly from the point of view of Byron Hemmings – described as an imaginative boy, I’d call him anxious – so we get a rather one-sided view of his rather more confident friend, James, his little sister, his rather fey mother Diana and absent (yet always terrifying) father. Byron seems so sweet – naive and protective of his mother in particular – that I spent a lot of the book worrying about his future…
There is also a modern day thread to the book – told from the point of view of a man called Jim, an ex-resident of a recently closed-down psychiatric facility. We get a good idea of what he has to live through every day – rituals, fears and anxieties – as we follow him in his home and job. As a character I would say he bears a strong resemblance to Harold Fry – especially when he is adrift without Maureen.
The action in the story mainly follows Diana’s friendship with a young woman from a nearby council estate. Class seems to be a theme in the story – Diana is obviously from a working class, theatrical background and the father is best described as ‘nouveau riche’ – and although you want to warm to Beverley (the new friend), since she seems to understand Diana much better than the other, more middle-class, mothers, you soon realise that the friendship is not a healthy one.
Rachel Joyce has once again taken serious themes – mental health, snobbery and loneliness, with hints of spousal abuse, alcoholism, blackmail and infidelity – and turned them into a story which demands that you enter into the feelings of the characters. It isn’t necessarily always a comfortable read but, once again, I feel there is a very positive ambience to the ending.