The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville
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!