The Idea Of Perfection
- Pan Macmillan
- Publication Date:
- 17 June 2000
- Modern & Contemporary
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A plain women and a gawky, shy man collaborate on a preservation project in the outback of Australia and fall in love. Sensitive exploration of human fraility.Even while engaged in preservation of the past, one can be haunted by ones own demons from the past.
<i>The Idea of Perfection</i> takes place in the Australian town of Karakarook, NSW, population 1374. Harley Savage, a middle-aged textile artist, travels from Sydney to create a heritage museum. Douglas Cheeseman, an engineer, is sent to demolish an old bridge. From this initial setup I expected intense conflict and community uprising, but that turned out to be secondary to the story of human foibles and relationships. Both Douglas and Harley are unmarried; he is divorced and she is a widow. Both are lonely, but they resist forming relationships with others. Douglas remains on the fringe of the local work crew. Harley feels awkward with others, and stubbornly resists a stray dog's repeated attentions. Both draw gradually to one another. In fact, the entire book moves in a very <i>gradual</i> manner. Grenville oh-so-slowly reveals details that build a complete picture of the main characters and the town's citizens. At the beginning of the book, Douglas is looking out of an upstairs hotel room window. Only later, after learning he suffers from vertigo, does it become clear that just looking out the window was an accomplishment. Details of Harley's childhood and married life are droppped like a trail of breadcrumbs. Slowly the reader sees these two, their physical imperfections, and their inherent inner goodness. In contrast, Grenville introduces local housewife Felicity Porcelline, who is portrayed -- again, <i>gradually</i> -- as someone obsessed with her appearance, the cleanliness of her home, and her son's academic performance. She appears perfect on the outside, but inside she leads a self-centered, deceptive life. This book had a surprisingly strong impact on me. I loved the slow reveal of the characters, and their ultimate depth. And while the book moved quickly, Grenville <i>suggests</i> plot in the same way she does her characters. There were many times in this novel where she made a subtle point that connected several other events in a way that literally left me wide-eyed, astonished, and saying "OH ... !!" out loud. <i>The Idea of Perfection</i> is sure to be one of my top reads of 2008.
Three times married Harley Savage is a master quilter and has a "dangerous streak." Douglas Cheeseman is a gawky engineer who's former wife has described him as a "bridge bore." They both arrive in Kararakook, NSW, she to help set up a pioneer heritage museum and he to direct the tearing down of the old bridge that has been deemed unsafe. Their developing relationship is explored in Kate Grenville's 2001 Orange Prize winning novel and within its' 400 pages lies a gem of a story.The beauty of this book is the detailed development of these two quirky characters, both so unsure of, and reticient to share too much of, themselves. Grenville masterfully, brings them together, and because of her attention to detail, you find yourself cheering them on and hoping that the author doesn't disappoint in the end. She doesn't. Douglas states early on the main theme of the book, "How do people get on?" We find, through these two and other characters, all flawed in their own ways, that most of us struggle with that question in one way or another. Later in the book, Harley states, when talking about the quilt she is making for the town, "Donna's pieces had got her excited, but everything looked good in the beginning. It was only later, putting the pieces together, that it turned into something less than you had hoped. It seemed she would never learn that was the way things always were." Just like life itself.Grenville uses many metaphors to relate her theme through the quilt and the bridge (the Bent Bridge), because they are both alike in many ways. From a distance, through the window, Douglas watches Harley work on the quilt, fitting pieces together, playing the light and the dark off of each other,allowing them to fit without concern that their seams line up, making it all come together so beautifully. At another point, Douglas explains to her what a beautiful, natural product concrete is, how it has no form of its' own until you determine what it will be, how when you combine the flexibility of steel with the strength of the concrete, you get the best outcome for a bridge that will last forever. And isn't that what relationships are all about? The fitting together, playing off of each other, combining qualities of each to complement the whole? Grenville does this so adroitly that I caught myself holding my breath at the beauty of it. The book's title explains, through the characters, what we all expect of ourselves and yet have a very difficult time maintaining. And through the secondary character Felicity, we learn that the idea of perfection is, in itself, flawed.I can't say enough about the beauty of this book. The elegant prose is only part of it. It's also the emotional wallop it provides and its' ability to make the reader sit back and think, "I know exactly what she's/he's feeling. Wonderful read!
This was a quick reread for the Girlybooks group theme read this month of "Women and Beauty"; however, the book is a story about baggage and history, about accepting your imperfections. It is also the oddest and best, middle-aged love story I think I have ever read.Harley Savage, a fabric artist and staff member at the Sydney Museum of Applied Arts comes to the dying outback town of Karakarook to assist them in starting a heritage museum. Douglas Chessman is a civil engineer who comes into town at the same time to consult about the destruction of the old historic bridge and the construction of a new one. Both are unlovely and flawed individuals with lots of emotional baggage and that's why i love them! There also exists in the story a comic foil of sorts in the character of Felicity Porcelline who, at 41, is obsessive about her looks (a perfectionist generally) and who is - though she denies it to herself - hot on Alfred Chang the local butcher. Do you see a bit of play with some of the names?No spoilers. This was my book of the year a few years back and the reread was a delightful opportunity for a pleasant revisit.Posted 4/08
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