Rachel Joyce's debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was an international bestseller. It was one of my top reads for 2012. (my review)
Her second novel is Perfect.
1972 England. Twelve year old Byron and his friend James are incredibly bright young men - their parents have earmarked them for great things and have set them on a path to their perfect destiny. But when James hears about two seconds being added to the global clock as a result of a leap year, he worries. And worries.
" Two seconds are huge. It's the difference between something happening and something not happening." Byron, his mother and younger sister are driving in the car when something does happen - something that changes everything in Byron and James's lives forever.
"It was all because of a small slip in time, the whole story. The repercussions were felt for years and years. Of the two boys, James and Byron, only one kept on course. Sometimes Byron gazed at the sky above the moor, pulsing so heavily with stars that the darkness seemed alive, and he would ache - ache for the removal of those two extra seconds. Ache for the sanctity of time as it should be."
Joyce cuts her narrative between 1972 and present day, where we meet Jim, wiping down tables in a supermarket café.
"He has spent his adult life in and out of care. Years have passed, and some of them he can't even remember. After treatment he could lose whole days; time was merely a selection of unconnected empty spaces. Sometimes he had to ask the nurse what he had eaten that day and if he had been for a walk. When he complained about memory loss, the doctors told him it was his depression. The truth is, he found it easier to forget."
Oh, how do I even begin to describe how much I loved this book. I raced through the first few chapters, then forced myself to put it down - I didn't want it to end too quickly. But I was inexorably drawn to the story of James and Byron, past and present. How was Joyce going to connect the two? What happened - what was going to happen? And I put the book down because I was afraid. Afraid of what would happen to Jim. His attempts to cope and his thoughts had me in tears. Jim captured me much as Harold did in Joyce's first book. And then there's a small glimpse of what could be....if only....
The title figures into so much of the book. The boys are expected to be perfect, as are their parents, their lives, their surroundings et al. And when it breaks down, the drive to perfection still lurks, insidiously stealing from the lives of everyone.
I thought I had everything figured out going into the last pages of the book, but was pleasantly caught off guard by the ending that Joyce chose. Not what I saw coming at all.
Joyce's exploration of the human spirit is by turns heart breaking and life affirming. Perfect is an eye opening testament to both the frailty and the resilience of the human spirit and the power of redemption.
Perfect is a five star read for me and one of my top books of 2013. Absolutely recommended. Read an excerpt of Perfect.