Synopses & Reviews
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.
“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
About 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.
Reading Group Guide
1. The attempt to achieve perfection is central to both Diana’s and Byron’s behavior. Has the novel changed your perception of what it may mean to be ‘perfect’?
2. Rachel Joyce portrays time as a slippery and unpredictable concept. Has this affected your attitude towards the ways in which we measure the paths of our lives?
3. Responsibility is a theme that plays a key part in the novel. Who do you believe holds the greatest responsibility for the accident?
4. Is Jim’s mental illness the inevitable result of the events of his childhood?
5. Diana says, ‘I’m beginning to think chaos is underrated.’ Do you agree?
6. Byron identifies the moment at which he no longer considers himself to be a child. How does the novel question traditional definitions of childhood and parenthood?
7. Rachel Joyce writes beautiful descriptions of Cranham Moor and the English landscape. What is the significance of the natural world in the novel?
8. What is the significance of class in the relationship between Beverley and Diana?
9. Several characters struggle with depression and obsessive-compulsive behavior in the novel. How effectively do you feel mental disorders are portrayed?
10. Diana believes that the course of her life is determined by destiny. What part does spiritual belief play in the novel, and do you agree that our actions cannot influence our own fates?
11. Seymour and Andrea Lowe express strong views about feminism. How does Rachel Joyce represent the role of women in the novel?
12. How does Rachel Joyce represent the different time periods of the novel? Are there echoes from 1972 in the present or is it a world and time that has disappeared without trace?
13. Diana is lonely despite having a family and friends; Jim experiences intense loneliness. What do you think makes people feel connected to each other, and what creates fulfilling relationships?
14. Byron and James Lowe are best friends as boys, and the employees at Mr Meade’s café form bonds of kinship. How does Rachel Joyce represent friendship, and what do you think it means to be a true friend?
15. Who is the most powerful character in the novel, and why?
16. Eileen and Jim are damaged, in different ways, by their pasts. To what extent do you feel their private pain is transformed through the act of sharing?