The Idea of Perfection

The Idea of Perfection

by Kate Grenville

Harley Savage is a plain woman, a part-time museum curator and quilting expert with three failed marriages and a heart condition.

They meet in the little Australian town of Karakarook, where Harley has arrived to help the town build a heritage museum and Douglas to demolish the quaint old Bent Bridge.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 3.62
  • Pages: 416
  • Publish Date: June 8th 2001 by Picador
  • Isbn10: 0330490656
  • Isbn13: 9780330490658

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This Australian winner of Britain's Orange Prize tells the story of Douglas Cheeseman, a chronically shy engineer, and Harley Savage, a museum curator who's been having a bad hair day since she was 12. "He had been known to laugh long before the punch-line, out of sheer anxiety." Harley aims for lively but comes off sounding accusatory. "You could not window-shop convincingly in Karakarook," Grenville writes, "unless you were in the market for dead flies." Harley has come to help the remaining 1,374 citizens build a heritage museum to attract tourists. Douglas has been sent to demolish the town's only real attraction, the dilapidated Bent Bridge. Harley, meanwhile, won't even acknowledge the mangy dog that follows her around town (not Doug, the other mangy dog). While Doug plans to demolish the Bent Bridge and Harley plans to save it, Grenville turns her witty eye to the tortured ruminations of Felicity Porcelline, a satirical portrayal as pitch-perfect as anything by Charles Dickens or Evelyn Waugh. To her horror, she's inexorably attracted to Mr. Chang, the inscrutable Chinese butcher, who has the nerve to act just like a normal person "as if he did not realize that being Chinese was unusual." Terrified by "their fascination for white women," Mrs. Porcelline worries that "if you happened to find yourself with him in the dark for any reason, you would never know he was Chinese." Torn between her carefully covered racism and her ferociously repressed desire, poor Mrs. Porcelline is subject to a constant barrage of erotic assaults on her pristine world. The Bent Bridge spans a treacherous gully in the heart, but Grenville is a trustworthy engineer who understands the quirky geometry of love.

This book had lots of elements that I often dont like, and yet It was quite slow-paced, but with a great turn of phrase. It certainly wasnt a book that I could tear through - it needed a bit more time. There had been a bit of a problem, with fabrics that had both spots and checks, or florals that were also stripes.

I love how Grenville puts all the hackneyed phrases we live behind in italics to emphasise how hard we try to be what we think others expect us to be - the titles Idea of Perfection - and how impossible it is for us all to behave like one generic mass of thoughts and emotions.

Two plain, middle-aged people come into the rural town of Karakarook in New South Wales around the same time. The author's descriptions of New South Wales gave the reader a good sense of place.

They went on turning and wheeling, catching and sending the light through the air, the sky with the dipping and turning birds in it a great bowl of light above the waiting earth." I love that image.

Perhaps it was the sound of this book that I liked so well, for undoubtedly it was the language that resonated in these descriptions of people and the bush.

Having experienced the quality of her work in the past, I really expected to enjoy this book. The premise around which the story develops is one that provoked interest, and the writing itself is rich with description. As much as I appreciated the superior skill with which Grenville draws out the nuances of each scene and character, at times the pace of the developing story suffered for the abundance of descriptive text.

She herself is a quilt maker: her patterns are original and - for the locals who value traditional designs - as eccentric as Harley herself. I loved the way Harley values quilts that actually need some imperfection to be original and meaningful. Another way that Grenville plays with the 'idea of perfection' is through the character of Felicity Porcelline, house proud and personally a perfectionist.

Ms. Grenville again makes you actually feel the heat, the dryness, the small-townness, the flies -- she transports you to this little spot on the globe and keeps you there while you read this book. I have added more of Ms. Grenville's books to my "to read" list - she has become one of my favorite authors -- just for her language alone!