The Idea of Perfection


Harley Savage is a plain woman, a part-time museum curator and quilting expert with three failed marriages and a heart condition. Douglas Cheeseman is a shy, gawky engineer with jug-handle ears, one marriage gone sour, and a crippling lack of physical courage. They meet in the little Australian town of Karakarook, where Harley has arrived to help the town build a heritage museum and Douglas to demolish the quaint old Bent Bridge. From the beginning they are on a collision course...

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The Idea of Perfection

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Harley Savage is a plain woman, a part-time museum curator and quilting expert with three failed marriages and a heart condition. Douglas Cheeseman is a shy, gawky engineer with jug-handle ears, one marriage gone sour, and a crippling lack of physical courage. They meet in the little Australian town of Karakarook, where Harley has arrived to help the town build a heritage museum and Douglas to demolish the quaint old Bent Bridge. From the beginning they are on a collision course until the unexpected sets them both free.

Elegantly and compassionately told, The Idea of Perfection is reminiscent of the work of Carol Shields and Annie Proulx and reveals Kate Grenville as "a writer of extraordinary talent" (The New York Times Book Review).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The fifth novel by Australian author Grenville (Lilian's Story, Joan Makes History) won Britain's prestigious Orange Prize last year and, at its best, it's easy to see why. It is an oddly uneven book, however, sometimes dazzlingly lyrical, compassionate and smart, but occasionally arch and rather clumsy. In the tiny backwater town of Karakarook, New South Wales, where everyone knows everyone else's business, two improbable outsiders fall very tentatively in love. Douglas Cheeseman is an engineer, sent to replace a historic bridge some townsfolk believe could be made into a tourist attraction. Museum curator Harley Savage has come from Sydney to create an exhibit of rural applied arts. The atmosphere of the town and the sunbaked, somnolent countryside is brilliantly rendered, and so, usually, are the prickly, deeply self-doubting lead characters; the use of a wonderfully observed dog as Harley's companion throughout is masterly. At other times, however, Grenville seems to be mocking her protagonists, as when Douglas is backed up to a fence by some cows, and the climactic scene, where he does something unwontedly brave, is forced. The subplot about a banker's self-regarding wife who allows herself to be seduced by a Chinese-born butcher is too coy by half. These elements are only disappointing because the book, when on target, is so remarkably clear-sighted about, yet fond of, its quirky characters. (Apr. 1) Forecast: The prize, noted on the cover, should certainly help to draw attention, and the book is readable and likable enough to earn good word of mouth. Admirers of Grenville's previous work are likely to be more critical. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This fifth novel by renowned Australian author Grenville (Lilian's Story), winner of the Orange Prize, presents the story of two people, both divorced, who for differing reasons are residing temporarily in a small town in the Australian bush. How Douglas, an awkward engineer, and Harley, a plain, big-boned museum curator, meet up as well as connect with the townspeople they are to work with is described with a compassionate eye for human frailty. While unfolding the lives of Douglas and Harley, Grenville depicts the life of the town and some of its eccentric inhabitants, using an effective blend of humor, sensuality, and pathos. She nicely contrasts urban and rural living and shows how even those who work to preserve the historical past may themselves remain haunted by their own personal histories. Both Grenville's description of small-town life in a harsh and rugged environment and her endearing portrayal of the minds and hearts of two people make for a satisfying and memorable read. Recommended for most fiction collections. Maureen Neville, Trenton P.L., NJ Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
There's a smile-if not an outright belly laugh-on every page of this delicious comic novel (winner of Britain's 2001 Orange Prize), the fifth from the Australian author (Albion's Story, 1994, etc.). The setting is the amiable little backwater of Karakarook in New South Wales, to which engineer Douglas Cheeseman is sent, to supervise the dismantling of the town's moribund landmark, the Bent Bridge. At the same time, Harley Savage, an irreversibly plain middle-aged woman who has left three husbands and as many sons behind her, arrives in Karakarook to help its Heritage Committee build a museum celebrating indigenous arts and crafts (Harley being a sometime curator, and an expert quilter). The tenuous, ineffably awkward relationship between Harley and Douglas is played out within a richly funny context of local folks and their doings, beginning when the two collide on the street, after which she inadvertently rescues him from an angry cow, their first "date" (for tea) leaves both with food poisoning, and they're forced to decision point when the good women of the Heritage Committee form a "blockade" against bulldozers aimed at the Bent Bridge. Meanwhile, the town banker's beautiful wife Felicity Porcelline finds herself helplessly attracted to Karakarook's Chinese butcher (and amateur photographer) Alfred Chang-with predictably disastrous seriocomic consequences. Grenville moves among their separate (and conjoined) stories with easy skill. The unfailingly delightful incidents dramatize the demolition of each major character's "idea of perfection": Felicity lives for physical beauty; Harley labors to subsume her vagrant "dangerous streak" into preservation of the environment and the past;Douglas worships the beauty of logical structures and the bountiful usefulness of concrete. All-including the stray dog that attaches itself to Harley-eventually discover the considerable pleasures of human (and animal) imperfection. Wonderful entertainment: a cockeyed romance that will have you cheering for all of these unlikely, wayward lovers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142002858
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 11/25/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 640,971
  • Product dimensions: 5.13 (w) x 7.76 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Kate Grenville is one of Australia's best-known writers. Her novels include Lilian's Story and Albion's Story, which was a finalist for the Miles Franklin Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction.

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