Books

07 July 2015

The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville, Australia, 1999



I really enjoyed this book. In essence it is about everyday life where nothing much happens; yet it is also about all those important 'nothings' that together make up life as we know it.

Beautifully written, The Idea of Perfection is set in a small country town called Karakarook, situated somewhere in NSW, Australia. The people are the ordinary people one would expect to meet in such an environment. The town is definitely not perfect, and the people living there are not perfect either. In fact, no one and nothing is perfect, and yet everyone – even the town – is striving, on some level, for perfection.
 
The story concerns an old timber bridge that is slowly rotting away. The powers that be in Sydney have decided that the bridge should be replaced; the town's heritage society, intent on saving all things old, wants to save the bridge as it is. Douglas is the engineer sent from Sydney to do something about the bridge (preferably pull it down and build a new one). Harley is a part-time consultant at the Sydney Museum of Applied Arts, who finds herself in Karakarook setting up the Karakarook Heritage Museum, and who gradually becomes entangled in the controversy over the bridge.

Both the two main characters, Douglas and Harley, have pasts that forcibly impact on their ideas of perfection, until they reach a point where they are able to put their pasts behind them.

One of the other characters, Felicity, is focused almost entirely on attaining superficial personal perfection, while Freddy, the Chinese butcher, oozing self-confidence and sex drive, believes that he has already found it. Douglas, on the other hand, may lack Freddy's self-confidence, and he may be hampered by the past, but he does have an intuitive understanding of perfection. Even Harley, large, rough and 'unbeautiful', has this understanding.

In the end, it appears that perfection is the complete antithesis to what Felicity is searching for in her jars of creams and moisturizers. Instead, it is tied up with intangible things like the unadulterated love Harley received from her grandmother, Douglas's ability to completely prioritize another person's needs over his own innate fears and, finally, the recognition of the innocent part a patient dog can play in helping someone understand the essence of life itself. Things that appear broken are not necessarily imperfect – it is all a matter of perspective and a willingness to try new tangents. Perfection may not necessarily be an attainable reality, it may simply be an idea.

The photo of Kate Grenville is from www.abc.net.au

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