Read The Idea of Perfection

The Idea of Perfection (1999) is about two people who seem the least likely in the world to fall in love. Douglas Cheeseman is an awkward engineer, the sort of divorced man you’d never look at twice. Harley Savage is a big, plain, abrasive woman who’s been through three husbands and doesn’t want another. Both of them bring all kinds of unhappy baggage to their meeting in the little town of Karakarook, New South Wales, population 1,374.

Being in Karakarook is something of a voyage of discovery for both of them. Unlike Felicity Porcelline, a woman dangerously haunted by the idea of perfection, they come to understand that what looks like weakness can be the best kind of strength.

The Idea of Perfection was a surprise winner of the Orange Prize, Britain’s richest literary prize, in 2001.

Although I read The Secret River a few years ago, I had never read anything else from Kate Grenville. While doing my usual trawling the Audible Plus Catalogue, I came upon The Idea of Perfection.

The novel is set in Karakarook, a fictional town in New South Wales no longer on the main road. It focuses on two visitors with contrary intentions. Harley Savage, a part-time museum curator come to help the town maintain their heritage, and Douglas Cheeseman, an engineer involved in rebuilding an old bridge that has seen better days.

The novel seems to always battle with a desire for a perfection that is never really present. On the one hand, this plays out as something of a comedy.  Kate Grenville has described the book as ‘a heart-warming old-fashioned love story’. Although this might be the case, I think what makes this novel is that there is also always something beneath the surface.

After enough years, the look you put on your face to hide behind became the shape of the person you were

For me, this is epitomised by the discussion of failed relationships, to the point of Harley Savage’s last husband committing suicide.

I think that this contrast between the comedic and the serious is what allows for these investigations.

She never thought about being Asian when he took his clothes off.

I like how Ron Charles captures it:

Readers who are particularly successful and good-looking, please skip to the next page. Kate Grenville has written a book for the rest of us. Everyone who’s ever returned from a great date to discover toilet paper trailing from their shoes will cling to “The Idea of Perfection” like an old friend.

“The Idea of Perfection” is perfectly conceived, an irresistible comedy of manners that catches the agony of chronic awkwardness with great tenderness.

Source: The awkward bridge from loneliness to romance by Ron Charles