By Kate Grenville
Completed January 23, 2010
A word of caution to readers who haven't read The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville. It's like a wonderful homemade soup. You first add the ingredients, slowly stir and then after hours of simmering, it becomes a tasty delight. The Idea of Perfection took a few chapters to get going, but readers who stick with this story are in for a wonderful literary experience.
The book centered on two unforgettable characters - Douglas Cheeseman, an engineer, and Harley Savage, a textile expert. Both characters were visiting a small town in New South Wales on congruent missions. Douglas was dispatched to the town to demolish and rebuild an old timber bridge while Harley was there to help the town create a heritage museum. Eventually, Douglas and Harley crossed paths, and a slow love story began to develop.
Douglas and Harley shared low self-esteem and a lot of romantic baggage. Douglas was divorced, and his first wife called him a "bridge bore." Harley had three husbands - two she divorced and Husband #3 killed himself. Neither felt worthy of love and relationships, and worried obsessively about their social skills. Slowly, Grenville put both characters into story lines together, showing their vulnerabilities and general awkwardness. As the story progressed, they eventually shed - layer by layer - their doubts and insecurities.
While Douglas and Harley were sorting out their feelings, lives and inadequacies, Grenville threw in a third character, Felicity Porcelline. Felicity, on the surface, was the opposite of Douglas and Harley. She was attractive - and knew it - and spent hours trying to preserve her appearance. While she looked great on the outside, Grenville showed readers what was inside Felicity - obsessive, compulsive behavior about kitchen floors and buttons; an unnatural conflict about wrinkles, lines and creases, and what causes them; and constant need for reassurance that she's still attractive to men. Felicity was like porcelain (I wonder if Grenville chose her last name intentionally) - beautiful but fragile. And in that way, all of the characters shared this fragile-like state, though wrapped up externally in different packages.
Through this character-driven story, Grenville showed readers that perfection is nothing more than an idea - a perception held by an individual. The perfect face, perfect marriage and even a perfect bridge are never really perfect. Anyone can find a flaw. However, it's the flaws that make those things so interesting. Fans of Kate Grenville or readers who enjoy intelligent story lines will love The Idea of Perfection. I know I did.