Rachel Joyce gave us Harold and now she has given us Byron. Byron lives in a world that does not really exist – although by that I do not mean this is some sort of fantasy novel. Byron is living in a perfect world and everything goes as it should. The hands of time tick away as they should that is until Byron’s friend James at school happens to mention that they are adding two seconds to time to balance with the movement of earth. Why would James make up such a thing, he is the cleverest boy in school and therefore it must be true? Byron has no doubts about it.
Then on a normal day, running slightly behind time, Byron’s mother takes a short cut to school, something his father would never allow, in that moment, everything changes and Byron is convinced it all happened at the same time they added those two seconds. Now the perfect world of Byron no longer exists.
His mother’s frailties are obvious from the start of the novel and they seem to veer down a deadly path as time goes on. She suddenly loses control of the perfect world she has cocooned herself in. Cracks in the marriage, which comes across as far from perfect from the beginning get wider, and both Byron and his sister are sucked into some sort of void. Byron formulates with the help of the very clever James a plan to put everything back as the way it should be. He encourages his mother to revisit the past and put right the wrongs for the future.
However, Byron is only an eleven year old boy has an over active imagination and a friend encouraging his obsession to put things back in a perfect way, has repercussions for the whole family and those outside it and as the book goes on, it became apparent to me that there is no such thing as perfect.
Alternating in chapters throughout the book, is the story of Jim, a man in his late fifties, who is living with a mental health problem. He has found himself back in society and is trying to cope with a normal working life in a cafe at the local supermarket, he needs and wants everything to be perfect. Perfect routine of everything he does, wiping the tables, talking to objects in the correct order, entering his home the right number of times but he learns that perhaps his perfect routine is not perhaps perfect after all.
This book is a challenge to read but if you choose to pick it up stay with it. It has been carefully written and crafted to give the maximum impact and does so with great skill. I kept reading because I could not see where everything was going, I tried to guess what was going to happen, but I was constantly wrong and was surprised at every page turn. It is so different from Harold Fry and for me it was the story of the fragility of life and how we have to accept what is round us, accept those who may be different to us and most importantly accept our non perfect selves.
It must be very hard to even think where to begin with a second novel, when your first was so successful as The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Perfect has a different sort of tension than Harold Fry, and I felt at some moment the characters were going to explode out from the page and release the tension that was so palpable in all of them.
It made me think about the word: pefect as a title and it is quite obvious I have used (maybe overused?) it many times in my review. The English language is such a wonderful and flexible thing. “Perfect” can be either an adjective (with the accent on the first syllable) or a verb (with the accent on the second syllable). The ‘perfect’ answer. (Adjective.) I wanted to ‘perfect’ the design. (Verb.) It brings a whole new take on the title and the book, it leaves you wondering long after you finish it.
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review and the beautiful dedication in the cover as well, which I will cherish. I think, in fact I know that this is a book which I will have to read again at some point in my life.