Monday, September 16, 2013

Rachel Joyce's Sequel to Harold Fry is, well, Perfect!

Readers who have been following this blog for a while may remember that The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was at the top of my favorites list last year. In fact, I'll be leading the book discussion of Rachel Joyce's debut novel at the South County library next winter. So naturally, when I read that she had a new novel coming out in January - yes, sorry, you'll have to wait until 2014 - I immediately asked for a copy from the good folks at Net Galley.

Harold was one of the first characters to make me cry in a long, long time. Diana Hemmings, the tragic figure in Perfect, didn't make me sob out loud but she tore my heart out just the same. In fact, the basic similarity between Ms. Joyce's first and second novels is that they are both peopled with such lost and lonely souls desperately in need of connection.

The other day I read an article in the New York Times about the president of Barnard College in which she discusses the downside of the feminist revolution, the fact that we gals now seem forced to seek perfection in everything we do. Having it all means being the perfect employee, manager, mom, wife, etc. Under that kind of enormous pressure, something's got to give. I though of Diana Hemmings right away.

Rachel Joyce has created in Diana such a fragile creature that I actually got sympathy knots in my stomach when her husband Sylvester got off the train each Friday afternoon at precisely the same time. The children who, during the week while daddy is away on business, laugh, play, and dwell happily in their imaginations, become silent, sullen, and nervous the second he gets in the car.

Though she's dressed with caution, not a hair out of place, Sylvester's favorite style includes a pencil skirt, modestly heeled shoes and a demure silk blouse, Diana can do nothing right under his cold scrutiny. Why, we might wonder, would she live like this, even keeping in mind that it is only 1972?

 Is it the lovely home on the English moors, the freedom from financial worries, or the new Jaguar sitting in the garage? Painfully, slowly, Ms. Joyce metes out the information to her readers so that we get to know the other Di, the one who was less than "perfect.".

The narrator is Diana's precocious son Byron, an eleven year old boy who's as sensitive and bright as his mother, and one who worries about everything. In fact, it is one of these big worries, that the international clock at Greenwich will lose two seconds during the course of the year, that is the catalyst for a split-second accident that will reverberate through the lives of all the characters down to current times.

This novel involves two stories told in alternating chapters that don't seem to correlate at all when you begin reading. Do stay with it. When it all makes sense, I hope that you'll be as shocked as I was.
The author has an exquisite way with words, a deep empathy for the human condition, and amazing insight into the mysteries of the heart. A wonderful read indeed.


TooManyBooks said...

Can't wait to read it! When are you coming back??

Sallyb said...

Around the first. So happy to hear the good news for the library system! Whew!

TooManyBooks said...

Yes, we are all breathing a sigh of relief! Are you going to the SWFLN board meeting on 10/8? We could catch up over din-din.