The Idea of Perfection
by Kate Grenville
This is the story of two people, unlikely protagonists - middle-aged, plain and emotionally awkward - both strangers in town. Douglas, with his thin sandy hair, bad teeth and jug ears, is an engineer (hampered by severe vertigo) come to reconstruct the town's main tourist attraction, the Bent Bridge. Harley, a 'big, raw-boned plain person' with three marriages behind her, is there to advise the local heritage committee about a museum they plan to establish.
The bridge, which has, over the years, bent and shifted downstream to accommodate the river, stands strong in its imperfections - '..the damage was the very thing that made it strong.' The town is divided on whether or not to pull it down and replace it with a concrete one and it stands as the central metaphor in the novel - the less -than-perfect, the shabby and inconvenient that has been shaped by history. Douglas and Harley stand on opposite sides of the argument.
These themes are subtly woven into the narrative throughout this beautifully crafted book and enrich an otherwise simple story. They also underline the sub-plot, which revolves around the fastidious Felicity Porcelline, obsessed by her fading beauty, and her bizarre encounters with the butcher, Alfred Chang. While being very funny, the irony is provided by some acute observations on racism and sexuality.
Karakakarook, NSW, a dusty fly-blown backwater, is an ideal backdrop for the small moral dramas being played out and will stay with you long after Douglas and Harley have left town.
This is a wonderful book and well deserved the 2001 Orange Prize.
Find out more in the reading notes for this book.
Read our interview with Kate Grenville.
See below to find out more about the wines produced in New South Wales where THE IDEA OF PERFECTION is set.
After James Busby landed in Sydney with Australia's first vine cuttings, the first wine region to be settled for serious grape and wine production was the Hunter Valley, 160km to the northwest. Semillon and Shiraz were (and are) the varieties this region is famed for. Semillon, notoriously lean and mean when young, turns into a rich toasty butter-bomb, and Shiraz, despite the oft-repeated tasting note of 'sweaty saddles', is some of the most gutsy, earthy and beguilingly baked-fruited of all. Itís hot here - some say too hot - and this is more than obvious in Hunter Chardonnays. Darlings of the 1980s, they got the variety off to a flying start in this country by virtue of their out-and-out tropical toastiness.
A little further inland, to the west of the Hunter, is Mudgee. In Aboriginal Mudgee means 'nest in the hills', and this is the perfect nesting place for Shiraz. Not the leathery spicy style of the Hunter, or the plummy violetty stuff of the Barossa, but ripe, rounded, lusciously flavoured wine that lends well to being blended with the Cabernet and Merlot also grown hereabouts. It's the highland coolness that makes the difference.
Situated at 600-900 metres above sea level, the volcanic hillside vineyards of Orange are some of Australia's coolest. This makes them great place to grow white grapes. Look out for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc with great citrus intensity: they get ripeness from warm sunny days, and crisp fresh acidity from cool mountainside nights. Compare them with wines from the Adelaide Hills and note the difference.
Two types of wine come from Riverina: easy-drinking cask wine, and rich, golden, apricotty botrytis Semillon. Tasting the latter, which gathers the best from the regionís long sunshiny days, and you'll be in for a dessert wine treat. Sticky sweet fortified wines from the region are an after dinner bonus, if you can find them.
New Regions, New Wines...
West of the Great Dividing Range, sheltered away from coastal rain, are three new regions: Cowra, Tumbarumba and Hilltops. Watch Cowra for peachy rich Chardonnay, Tumbarumba for tangy Sauvignon, and Hilltops for berry and spice Cabernet, and see what else emerges in the future...
To find out more about Australian wine and wine growing regions, log on to wineaustralia.com