Book Club Banter

By Kathy Olsen Adult Services Librarian, Haywood County Library | May 21, 2014

Rachel Joyce, the author of the acclaimed "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry," has structured her new novel, "Perfect," in two parallel narratives: the story of Byron and the present-day story of Jim.

The early story begins during a Leap Year and when Byron's best friend James tells him that two extra seconds will be added to the clocks, Byron becomes obsessed with the possible danger that he thinks the introduction of this wrinkle in time will bring.

This obsession is a glimpse into the neurosis of the character which worsens with age. On the way to school one fog-laden morning, his mother takes a route through a part of town they usually avoid. When young Byron sees his watch go backward for two seconds he looks up to see that his mother has just hit someone but seems to not have noticed.

This event is the catalyst for their lives unraveling. Blame is elusive in regard to the accident, but we know for sure it is Diana, his beautiful, fragile mother, who is most dramatically affected. And as she struggles, and fails, to maintain appearances, her guilt-ridden son and his friend James set up an elaborate plan to save her.


The second storyline follows the life of Jim, supermarket worker in his 50s trying his best to cope after decades in institutional care. With his nervous tics and obsessive-compulsive rituals, Jim is ill-equipped for life outside Besley Hill, the institutional home where he has spent most of his time from the age of 16.

When the institution is closed, he is forced to survive on the ‘outside.’ He has no friends or family, and lives in a broken down camper-van. He is a man alone in the world, a character whose every gesture and stuttered utterance reminds us of his loneliness, abandonment and emotional turmoil.

There is a heartbreaking quality to Joyce's narrative that makes for her most memorable writing. The author does a great job of setting up mysterious circumstances and an intangible sense of dread (intimated by the title). But amidst all that drama and mystery, there is a healthy dose of humor and lightheartedness.

There are many threads to be ‘tied up’ at the novels end and to her credit, the author does not make the reader feel tricked. But rather, we have moments of…”so that’s why that happened…”

Here are some great suggestions from Random House:


Discussion Questions:

1) Diana says, ‘I’m beginning to think chaos is underrated.’ Do you agree?


2) What did you like (or not like) about Rachel Joyce’s writing style?


3) Diana believes that the course of her life is determined by destiny.

What part does spiritual belief play in the novel?


A charming open letter from Rachel Joyce about Perfect.

Brought to you by the Haywood County Library and Blue Ridge Books.