Perfect: A Novel

Perfect: A Novel

3.3 21
by Rachel Joyce

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A spellbinding novel that will resonate with readers of Mark Haddon, Louise Erdrich, and John Irving, Perfect tells the story of a young boy who is thrown into the murky, difficult realities of the adult world with far-reaching consequences.

Byron Hemmings wakes to a morning that looks like any other: his school uniform draped over his wooden desk


A spellbinding novel that will resonate with readers of Mark Haddon, Louise Erdrich, and John Irving, Perfect tells the story of a young boy who is thrown into the murky, difficult realities of the adult world with far-reaching consequences.

Byron Hemmings wakes to a morning that looks like any other: his school uniform draped over his wooden desk chair, his sister arguing over the breakfast cereal, the click of his mother’s heels as she crosses the kitchen. But when the three of them leave home, driving into a dense summer fog, the morning takes an unmistakable turn. In one terrible moment, something happens, something completely unexpected and at odds with life as Byron understands it. While his mother seems not to have noticed, eleven-year-old Byron understands that from now on nothing can be the same.
What happened and who is to blame? Over the days and weeks that follow, Byron’s perfect world is shattered. Unable to trust his parents, he confides in his best friend, James, and together they concoct a plan. . . .
As she did in her debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce has imagined bewitching characters who find their ordinary lives unexpectedly thrown into chaos, who learn that there are times when children must become parents to their parents, and who discover that in confronting the hard truths about their pasts, they will forge unexpected relationships that have profound and surprising impacts. Brimming with love, forgiveness, and redemption, Perfect will cement Rachel Joyce’s reputation as one of fiction’s brightest talents.

Praise for Perfect
“Touching, eccentric . . . Joyce does an inviting job of setting up these mysterious circumstances, and of drawing Byron’s magical closeness with Diana.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Tiimes
“Haunting . . . compelling.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[Joyce] triumphantly returns with Perfect. . . . As Joyce probes the souls of Diana, Byron and Jim, she reveals—slowly and deliberately, as if peeling back a delicate onion skin—the connection between the two stories, creating a poignant, searching tale.”O: The Oprah Magazine
Perfect touches on class, mental illness, and the ways a psyche is formed or broken. It has the tenor of a horror film, and yet at the end, in some kind of contortionist trick, the narrative unfolds into an unexpected burst of redemption. [Verdict:] Buy It.”New York
“Joyce’s dark, quiet follow-up to her successful debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, could easily become a book club favorite. . . . Perfect is the kind of book that blossoms under thoughtful examination, its slow tendencies redeemed by moments of loveliness and insight. However sad, Joyce’s messages—about the limitations of time and control, the failures of adults and the fears of children, and our responsibility for our own imprisonment and freedom—have a gentle ring of truth to them.”The Washington Post
“There is a poignancy to Joyce’s narrative that makes for her most memorable writing.”—NPR’s All Things Considered

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
★ 12/01/2013
England. 1972. Best friends Byron and James, both 11 years old, worry about the two seconds added to time because it is a leap year. While driving on a foggy morning, just as Byron is telling her about the two seconds, his mother, Diana, hits a little girl on a bicycle. The cascade of disasters quietly unleashed by the accident, which Byron blames on the added time, build to an almost unbearable tension, with the situation aggravated by Diana's suffocatingly controlling husband and her attempts to make things right with the little girl's mother. England. 2012. Jim, a former mental patient now in his early fifties, is living in his van while working at a restaurant. Nearly incapacitated by the relentlessly overwhelming rituals of his obsessive-compulsive disorder and a terrible stutter, he is befriended by the woman who accidentally runs over his foot with her car. VERDICT In alternating chapters, these two stories set 40 years apart frame Joyce's exquisitely played novel of tragedy and mental illness and the kind of wrenching courage unique to those who suffer from the latter and yet battle to overcome it. As in her brilliant debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Joyce stuns with her beautifully realized characters and the unexpected convergence of her two tales. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/13.]—Beth Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Publishers Weekly
An 11-year-old boy makes an error that brings tragedy to several lives, including his own, in Joyce’s intriguing and suspenseful novel. One summer day in a small English village in 1972, Byron Hemmings’s mother, Diana, is driving him and his younger sister to school when their Jaguar hits a little girl on a red bicycle. Diana drives on, unaware, with only Byron having seen the accident. Byron doesn’t know whether or not the girl was killed, however, and concocts a plan called “Operation Perfect” to shield his mother from what happened. Previously, she has always presented the picture of domestic perfection in trying to please her martinet banker husband, Seymour, and overcome her lower-class origins. After Byron decides to tell her the truth about the accident, she feverishly attempts to make amends by befriending the injured girl’s mother, but her “perfect” facade begins to splinter. Joyce sometimes strains credibility in describing Diana’s psychological deterioration, but the novel’s fast pacing keeps things tense. Meanwhile, in alternate chapters, Jim, a psychologically fragile man in his 50s, endures a menial cafe job. Joyce, showing the same talent for adroit plot development seen in the bestselling The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, brings both narrative strands together in a shocking, redemptive (albeit weepily sentimental) denouement. The novel is already a bestseller in England. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Rachel Joyce
Perfect is a poignant and powerful book, rich with empathy and charged with beautiful, atmospheric writing.”—Tana French,  author of In the Woods and Broken Harbor
“[Rachel] Joyce, showing the same talent for adroit plot development seen in the bestselling The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, brings both narrative strands together in a shocking, redemptive denouement.”—Publishers Weekly
“[Perfect’s] unputdownable factor . . . lies in its exploration of so many multilayered emotions. There is the unbreakable bond between mother and son, the fear of not belonging . . . and how love can offer redemption.”—London Evening Standard
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
“[Rachel Joyce] has a lovely sense of the possibilities of redemption. . . . She’s cleared space where miracles are still possible.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Joyce’s beguiling debut is [a] modest-seeming story of ‘ordinary’ English lives that enthralls and moves you as it unfolds.”People (four stars)
“[A] gorgeously poignant novel of hope and transformation.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“A gentle adventure with an emotional wallop. It’s a smart, feel-good story. . . . I can’t think of a better recommendation for summer reading. And take your time, just as Harold does.”—Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

Kirkus Reviews
The time is out of joint, as the follow-up to a popular novelistic debut brings a slightly darker edge to its fablelike whimsy. Having earned a best-selling readership in both the U.S. and her native Britain with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2012), Joyce returns with an even less likely but more ambitious piece of fictional fancy. The protagonist is 11-year-old Byron, a reflective and innocent schoolboy who becomes overly concerned when his best friend, James, tells him that two seconds will be added to this leap year to somehow even things out. After his mother assures him that "[w]hen it happens you won't notice. Two seconds are nothing," Byron responds, "That's what nobody realizes. Two seconds are huge. It's the difference between something happening and something not happening." And with the addition of those two seconds--or not--something happens--or not. And whether or not something happens, everything changes. A veteran of the stage and a radio playwright before turning to fiction, Joyce specializes in the sort of insights that some find charming, others cloying and a style that could sometimes pass for fairy tale, other times for Young Adult (though those readers wouldn't have much patience for her plotting). The novel alternates between chapters that follow what happens to Byron, his mother and their family (which the reader quickly realizes is more dysfunctional than Byron does) and ones that concern an adult sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder who resorts to menial labor when the British mental health system fails him. "No one knows how to be normal, Jim," a social worker tells him. "We're all just trying to do our best." The two plot lines must inevitably intersect, but the manner in which they do will likely surprise even the most intuitive reader. Many of those who loved the author's first novel should at least like her second.

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Random House Publishing Group
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Meet the Author

Rachel Joyce is the author of the international bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. She is also the award-winning writer of more than twenty plays for BBC Radio 4. She started writing after a twenty-year acting career, in which she performed leading roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company and won multiple awards. Rachel Joyce lives with her family on a Gloucestershire farm.

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Perfect 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
DiiMI More than 1 year ago
Strangely unique, or brilliantly twisted drama that slowly unfolds, crumb by crumb to leave me speechless, Perfect by Rachel Joyce doesn’t fit neatly into a prescribed genre and I love authors who color outside the lines with bold strokes! Scientists have decided that there must be two seconds added to time, no big deal, right? But for young Byron, those two seconds were enough time to have his life slowly implode around him, mentally overpowering his sense of well-being and ease. But were these two seconds the cause or merely the straws that finally broke the camel’s back? Were there events in Byron’s life that could have been avoided if those two seconds never existed? They have become his obsession, and festering thought that leaves holes in the fabric of the ma he was to become. Could anyone see this coming or was he adrift in a world that had its own problems, from his nervous and medicated mother to his absent and cold father? The only person Byron could count on for wisdom was his best friend, James, another child, better adjusted, more daring and fascinated by life’s twists, unlike Byron, who saw darkness in everything. Dark and edgy, Perfect takes the reader spiraling down the path that is Byron’s life, one step at a time, as seen through his eyes with his limited understanding. Imagine learning that people will deceive, they will take and take until there is nothing left, they will misunderstand, and you have nowhere to go for your safe haven, no rock to lean on in a world far beyond your understanding. Rachel Joyce draws the reader in with each word, each scene, each event, making no apologies for holding you captive in an uncomfortable situation. Well written, well-paced, dramatic reading! I received an ARC edition in exchange for my honest review from Random House Publishing Group - Random House
TheStephanieLoves More than 1 year ago
1970's England. Fancy jaguars parked in the garages of upperclass suburban homes. Mothers in dainty white gloves wiping the sugar off their children's mouths. Fathers returning on the weekends with their briefcases in one hand, while expecting a shot of scotch from the bottle in the cabinet, in the other. This is the scene in which the primary portion of Perfect is set. Upon witnessing a terrible lapse of time and in awareness, Byron Hemmings is caught in between the worlds of childhood and adulthood, as he is reluctantly forced to make a choice: reveal this secret about his precious, faultless mother, Diana, or keep quiet in his own mind forever. When his genius friend, James, excitedly concocts a plan to fix this intangible error, Operation Perfect is born; as the judgment of two adolescent boys goes, the procedure will either go according to plan, just as imagined in their hands... or it will end it utter disaster. Byron's balmy, yet increasingly paranoiac summer days, are interspersed with Jim's portion of the story, set in a bitter present-day winter. Jim is a middle-aged obsessive-compulsive, who lives in a van, who works as a busboy, and whose condition worsens when reminiscing about his past and his haunting experience at Besley Hill, the sanitarium he was shoved into as a teenager. The two seemingly unrelated narratives catch up to each other in a collision of time; they swerve together and explode into one another in a fateful, alarming twist that will leave readers breathless. For the majority of the novel, however, the prose is—however flowery and fanciful—languidly, almost sluggishly, set. I found Joyce's writing enjoyable, but very thick and puzzling, especially in the first half. Almost Ian McEwan-esque, her prose isn't particularly difficult to get through, but at times it was just thoroughly boring, which is why it took me a while to finish. In characterization, in plot, and in tone, however, Perfect is a masterpiece. Each of the characters, even the ones that only make small appearances, are so vivid and intimately portrayed. Readers will cherish the characters they are meant to like, and loathe the ones they are meant to dislike. The eerily calm but inherently alarming mood sets up a domestically freakish story; while plain and placid in technique and style, the undertones of Perfect not only illuminate upon values of mistakes, redemption, and the human condition, but also bewilder, perplex. This is definitely a book that makes you think hard. Pros: Substantial, exquisite writing // Contains one of the most elegantly executed, shocking plot twists ever // Deeply meaningful // The way Byron's mind runs in fascinating // All the characters are fabulously depicted; I fell in love with the protagonists and hated the antagonists deeply Cons: Very confusing at first // Moves extremely slowly, even in the end // I liked the prose but it was a little sludgy Verdict: The injustices of adulthood and the restrictive bindings of upperclass society are brought to light in Rachel Joyce's newest British novel. Byron Hemmings's brilliantly fleshed, intimately portrayed character will make you think twice about the role of children, the responsibility of—or vindication from—accidents, and the faults of trust—the faults of humanity. One young boy's naïveté and misplaced guilt, as well as his mother's faultless crime, ignite this slow deterioration of an outwardly immaculate, perfect household. With grand allusions to the philosophy of time and the significance of deep thinking, Perfect questions the disastrous consequences of our every choice. Rating: 8 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): An engaging read that will be worth your while; highly recommended. Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Random House and TLC!).
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
“Sometimes it is easier, he thinks, to live out the mistakes we have made than to summon the energy and imagination to repair them” Perfect is the second novel by bestselling British author, Rachel Joyce. In the heat of the 1972 English summer, Byron Hemmings, an intense and thoughtful eleven-year-old boy, is worried. His best friend (and the smartest boy in school), James Lowe has told him two seconds are to be added to time. He understands it is necessary, but can’t shake a feeling of terror. When those two seconds appear to result in a car accident involving Diana Hemmings’ perfect Jaguar, Byron worries incessantly about the consequences and, despite his best efforts to follow the meticulous plans James makes, his known universe begins to unravel.  Joyce uses two narrators to tell her story: young Byron relates the events of that 1972 summer; Jim, a man in his fifties whose life is governed by rituals, intersperses his narration of his present day life (currently being disrupted by a red-headed cook uttering profanities) with memories of earlier times and how he came to live most of his life in a mental institution. These narratives approach a common point, gradually revealing the summer’s tragic conclusion.    Joyce renders the feel of the seventies summer and the present day winter with great skill. Her descriptive prose is often breathtaking: “The sun was not yet fully risen and, caught in the low weak shaft of light, the dew shone silver over the meadow although the crust of earth beneath was hard and cracked. The ox-eye daisies made white pools on the lower hills while every tree sprang a black leak away from the sun’s light. The air smelt new and green like mint” and “A flock of gulls flew east, rising and falling, as if they might clean the sky with their wings” and  “With a clutter of wings a flock of starlings lifts into the air, unravelling and lengthening like black ribbon” are just a few samples. Her characters are appealing and the reader cannot help having sympathy for their situation: Diana’s feelings of inadequacy, Byron’s need to protect his beloved mother (“Like a splinter in his head, the truth was always there, and even though he tried to avoid it by being careful, sometimes he forgot to be careful and there it was”), Jim’s attempts to be normal (“No one knows how to be normal, Jim. We’re all just trying our best. Sometimes we don’t have to think about it and other times it’s like running after a bus that’s already halfway down the street.”) Byron’s anxiety is palpable and Joyce portrays mental conditions like depression and OCD with both insight and humour.  She gives her characters words of wisdom: “They’re playing with us, aren’t they?.....The gods. We think we understand, we’ve invented science, but we haven’t a clue. Maybe the clever people are not the ones who think they’re clever. Maybe the clever people are the ones who accept they know nothing” and “Sometimes caring for something already growing is more perilous than planting something new”. On more than one occasion, the reader may well be moved to tears. Fans of Joyce’s work will not be disappointed and newcomers will want to seek out her other books. A moving and uplifting read. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
anovelreview_blogspot_com More than 1 year ago
The novel is told in two alternating voices, one is young Byron and the other is an older man named Jim (this is also 40 years later). Byron seems completely perplexed on how to protect his mother from what she has done. The poor boy is consumed by it. His father, is only home on the weekends and seems to have very little to do with his children and is only interested in people being impressed by how well he takes care of his wife. For the most part, I really did not like his dad, but later during a father/son discussion I understood him a bit more and felt some sympathy for him. With his father being who he is, Byron is essentially on his own to take care of his mother and his younger sister, Lucy. His best friend, James seems to 'help' from a distance--but they are so far over their heads. Things go from bad to worse when Beverly begins showing up in the story. Her character brings out a different part of Byron's mother, Diana. Diana begins to unravel and Byron is left alone to try and put everything right. The story of Jim is an odd addition. I wasn't sure of his connection to the story. Jim is an older man who had been in and out of a psychiatric hospital where he received years of electroshock therapy. His memory is full of holes, he lives in a van and is compulsively performing rituals. As I read along, I was sure the stories would merge, but I was never really sure how. The further into the novel the more I wanted for Jim, I wanted a happily ever after. As I first began reading, I just wasn't sure what to think of it. The novel is very well written and has such a wonderful flow you don't realize just how deep into the story you've read. I felt frustrated that there were no adults to help Byron out, he is so alone. I wanted his mother and father to snap out of their own little worlds and realize these kids needed them. I was sad for Byron, sad for Jim. The entire cast of characters are flawed and yet I wanted only the best for them. I found PERFECT to be a sad, but somehow beautiful story. Everything comes to light in the end and there is more I want to say, but it would only spoil the story and I can't have that. Pick up a copy of PERFECT, you won't be sorry!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great read that will make you stop and think.
BrandieC More than 1 year ago
It would be hard to think of a better name for this book, for Rachel Joyce's Perfect was, in fact, practically perfect. It was a beautifully written, evocative exploration of the power of magical thinking, the nature of friendship, and the unanticipated consequences of mistakes. The story is told in alternating chapters occurring in 1972 and today. I can't say much more without revealing a significant plot twist; suffice it to say that this structure successfully kept the tension at a steady boil until the very end. In this respect, Perfect should appeal to readers who enjoyed Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, even though the subject matter of the two books is very different. I loved the "hook" of the added two seconds. The prologue immediately captured my attention and drew me into the lives of Byron, Diana, and James. Those considering this book will, therefore, be able to tell immediately from the sample on Amazon or Barnes & Noble whether they will enjoy it. Joyce was able to capture key aspects of each character's personality in concise visual images. Had she written only the following two lines about Byron's father, I would have known all I needed to know: "He nodded the way his father did when he was stating a fact, as if he was so correct even his own head had to agree." "If Byron ever tried to hug him, and sometimes he wished he could, the embrace ran away at the last minute and became a handshake." Can't you just see that embrace running away? Here is Byron during a conversation with James: "Every time he began a sentence he was afraid the wrong words would escape from his mouth. Consequently he had to keep examining them on their way out, as if he was checking their hands for cleanliness. It was exhausting." From these three short sentences, I learned a great deal about Byron's self-esteem, his relationship with his best friend James, and the "perfect" life led in Cranham House. I did not realize before I began reading Perfect that it was written by the same author who wrote The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I will certainly be seeking out that book in the near future. I received a free copy of Perfect through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read! A little slow in spots, but totally worth pushing through. The end was the perfect twist. Maybe not a book for everyone, but for those of us who love a surprise ending, great. Stayed with me for days.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a very interesting & well thought out plot involving 2 boys & the concept of time & how it may affect the outcome of certain events which take place.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing! I enjoyed Harold Fry enormously....this was better, I think. And think I will be a long time before Perfect leaves my thoughts!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
Perfect certainly made an impact right from the start. It's been a while since the beginning of a novel has so fiercely grabbed my attention. I felt fully invested in these characters, most notably Jim and Byron's mother. I was taken aback by the Hemmings' entire world, the way the people in their social circle behaved. And I have to say, getting to know Byron's mother through his eyes was sometimes downright painful. Something that really struck me was how the title, that word perfect, carried different meanings at various points throughout the novel. Whether it was the stress of trying to be (or at least appear) perfect, or learning that what seems perfect oftentimes isn't, Joyce pulls back layer after layer behind the depth of this single word. There are two stories running parallel, but I had no idea exactly where things were headed or how everything would play out. I didn't expect the ending at all and when the two stories met, I was overwhelmed by the profundity. Joyce's writing drew me in; it felt good to read her words. The story flowed naturally and I had trouble putting the book down. I can't wait to read more of her work. I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.
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cjchrist More than 1 year ago
I don't have time to ready many books, but I decided to give this one a try during my recent vacation. I was quite disappointed. First of all, it was hard for me to wrap my head around the "Englishness" of this book. I could eventually figure some things out, but all in all, the entire book seemed so foreign in some ways, and not just by some of the English words and phrases. I found it incredibly hard to believe that a young boy, no matter what age, country, or time period, would NOT tell his mother what he noticed during that drive to school. Another thing that was confusing was the way the two boy characters would suddenly begin speaking French. I DON'T KNOW FRENCH! Her technique of having alternate chapters describe another plot line was intriguing at first, but the two stories took way too long to intersect and make sense. The relationship between the boy's parents seemed odd, too.
MarieHammond More than 1 year ago
My Book Club read this book. Half thought it was OK, the other half did not like it. I was in the group that did not like it. I never got the connection of the two story lines until the end, and at that, it left me cold. Most of the people in the story were really screwed up. I just never related to the characters or the story line.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I so enjoyed R. Joyce's first book and was excited to read her new one. While the story started out pleasant enough, it became dark and disturbing, so much so I had to skim the last one hundred or so pages. Don't waste your money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sorry book dont buy