Book review: Perfect by Rachel Joyce

Sunday, December 29, 2013 Permalink

In 1972 Byron Hemming’s best friend James tells him that 2 seconds are about to be added to ‘time’ and Byron becomes obsessed with the notion.

The addition of two seconds to clocks around the world, he believes, could be catastrophic and he starts to picture fateful scenarios which could occur in the blink of an eye.

Indeed (and as is wont to be the case)…  his fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy for Byron and his family.


What follows is a terribly sad and frustrating account of the impact those seconds have on Byron and his mother Diana, sister Lucy and mostly-absent father Seymour.

But Byron, with the help of James, tries to right matters and both are committed to protecting the alluring but fragile Diana from unfolding events as best they can.

The novel features a second storyline with Jim, recently released from a mental institution, grappling with life ‘outside’; struggling with a past he’d rather forget and trying to engage in a world he doesn’t know.

There was something compelling about this book but the story unfolded a bit like a train wreck. You kinda knew what was coming but there was nothing you could do to stop it. Its predictability, however, doesn’t lessen its impact.

I have to admit I underestimated the effect the book had on me. Although compelling it wasn’t riveting (there’s a difference in my mind and it relates to my need to keep reading when I need to stop!) however… the ending is so tragic and heartbreaking that it’s hard not to think about it for hours and days afterwards. I still find myself getting frustrated at the lack of justice / fairness… and have to remind myself it was just a novel and I need to ‘let it go’. #Ommmm

What astounded the shit out of me was that the ‘adding 2 second’ thing was actually not just artistic licence. It did (and does) indeed happen. In fact, apparently 24 seconds have been added to Universal Coordinated Time and clocks around the world since 1972 (the year in which we meet Byron)*.

Approximately every 1.5 years an extra second (a leap second) is added to account for the fact that the Earth’s rotation around its axis slows down a little over time.  Leap seconds are just a means to adjust our clocks to the Earth’s slowing rotation.

Perfect is Rachel Joyce’s second novel. Her first The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Rachel Joyce’s Perfect was released in July 2013 via Random House UK, Transworld Publishers (and Random House in Oz).

*Apparently this does not mean that days are 24 seconds longer nowadays. Only the days on which the leap seconds are inserted have 86,401 instead of the usual 86,400 seconds.
PS. I should note that this does not make sense to me. Does that mean every year on the various 24 days someone (or many someones) have to adjust clocks back 1 second or add the additional second to various clock settings around the world?!

NB. I received a copy of this book from the publishers via NetGalley for review purposes.

  • Char
    December 30, 2013

    Time gets added to one of my clocks all the time so this concept isn’t new to me. I keep having to readjust it because it runs fast. Does that mean I’m losing time instead of having it added? It’s too confusing. I could never time travel.

    • Debbish
      December 30, 2013

      Exactly Char. I understand the reasoning behind the time adjustment (well, not in your house… but in general! 😉 ) but wonder how exactly it’s done.

  • Lou Lou
    December 31, 2013

    Oh I’m not sure this one is for me, I don’t do tragic or heartbreaking at the moment!

    • Debbish
      December 31, 2013

      I can imagine… and the lack of ‘fairness’ or justice in this novel is something I pondered on A LOT after I finished reading it.

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