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"Perfect" by Rachel Joyce is hardly perfect

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Perfect by Rachel Joyce

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In 1972, two seconds were added to time. It was in order to balance clock time with the movement of the earth. Byron Hemming knew this because James Lowe had told him and James was the cleverest boy at school. But how could time change? The steady movement of hands around a clock was as certain as their golden futures.

Then Byron's mother, late for the school run, makes a devastating mistake. Byron's perfect world is shattered. Were those two extra seconds to blame? Can what follows ever be set right?

Perfect by Rachel Joyce (Random House, 2013) tells the story of two young boys –Byron and James, both privileged eleven year olds attending private school. When two seconds are added to time in 1972, their lives change irrevocably. Byron’s mother is taking her kids to school when a devastating accident occurs. Byron believes those two extra seconds are what ruined everything.

Written with profound understatement, Joyce delves into the consequences of this terrible accident, and what it means to Byron’s family – and even to his friend James. Determined to protect his mother, Byron keeps a secret that destroys the already neurotic child.

The narration sweeps from 1972 to present day, where Jim, who struggles with mental illness, is wiping down tables at a supermarket. He has spent the years in and out of a psychiatric care facility, and must adjust to “normal” life after the institution closes down. Jim was a highly empathetic character, and I often found myself scared for him – and hoping for the best.

I found it very dull - I plodded along for the first 100 pages hoping that the story would pick up, but I was never fully engaged. I found it difficult to differentiate between Byron and James, and I felt like neither of the young boys were clearly defined characters in their own right. I enjoyed the chapters that depicted Jim’s life, and Joyce was highly adept at allowing you to empathize with his plight and mental health struggles.

Other than that, however, I found myself wanting to skip pages (which I never do) and found it difficult to get through. That said, the writing was fantastic and while the characterization left something to be desired, I have no issues with the “slow burn” nature of the plot – but in this case, the combination of the two was lethal to my review.

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