Finished August 2
Perfect by Rachel Joyce, read by Paul Rhys
This novel moves back and forth between the summer of 1972 and the present day.
In 1972, two seconds were added to time to adjust for the gradual change in the earth's rotation. When 12-year-old Byron Hemmings learns of this from his friend James, he can't stop thinking about it. When will it happen, how will it affect things. He is terribly worried about it, and obsesses over it. Then, one day, running late for delivering Byron and his younger sister Lucy to school, Byron's mother Diana takes a detour through a street with estate housing, Digby Road, and Byron's obsession and her newly acquired driving skills combine to create a situation that will change all of their lives irrevocably.
At first, only Byron notices, and desperate, he confides in James, who comes up with plans that continue to unfold as more happens, but even when James dictates what Byron should say, Byron realizes that things don't always unfold they way they planned because James didn't predict what the others would say. Byron's strongest feelings are toward his mother, and this example shows them nicely: He didn’t know how he was going to keep his mother safe. The job seemed too big for one boy alone. There was something about her, something pure and fluid that would not be contained. Byron's need for control and order are beyond his ability to manage real life and things move forward in a sad and seemingly inevitable way. Byron's interactions with his mother, his sister and the little girl Jeannie all show his compassion and tenderness, and his vulnerability. His father is both controlling and distant, both in charge and needy, and Byron can't find the necessary connection to confide in him, even as things deteriorate in Byron's world.
In the present, Jim is adjusting to his new life following the closing of the mental institution that he has spent most of his life in. He works in the cafe of a large store, wiping tables. He lives on the edge of the moors in a camper van. His life is dictated by the rituals that his obsessive-compulsive disorder drives him to do. He has a stutter, possible a result of the electro-shock therapy he was subjected to. He is desperately lonely, but knows his own weaknesses and doesn't believe himself capable of sustaining a relationship. When a coworker, Eileen, captures his attention, he feels a connection with her that he envisions as his one last change to connect with the world. We see how his coworkers begin to see him as a person, one they care about. The writing around Jim and his mental illness is so well done, so empathetic, it is a wonder. I felt Jim's pain and worry. I felt for him, and the desperate way things in his life had led him to where he is.
But this book is also full of humour, and I found myself giggling at some of the action here, like the scene where Jim and Eileen have both used scented products as a way to prepare themselves for a get together.
Joyce's second novel is very different from her first but equally compelling and engrossing. There were times when the voice of Jim reminded me of The Curious Dog in the Night-time, in terms of really feeling the viewpoint of a person with a different outlook. While I listened to this book in audio, I really feel the need to buy a print copy to savour some of the writing. An amazing read.