The Idea of Perfection

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.



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