Orange Prize Challenge #4: ‘The Idea of Perfection’

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Well, it took me a while to get through 2001’s Orange Prize winner “The Idea of Perfection,” written by Australian Kate Grenville. I have very mixed feelings about the book, because I can’t say that I hated it, but I didn’t really like it all that much either. Basically, the story involves three people — Douglas, Harley and Felicity — that are outsiders in a small bush town in Australia. Douglas is there to rebuild an old bridge, Harley to help the town put together their heritage museum and Felicity to support her husband in his new bank job.

For me, while the writing was superb, the storytelling was completely uneven. I would be interested in Douglas and Harley’s budding love affair, and then abruptly placed at a distance when he began stalking her. I wanted to know more about Felicity’s indiscretions, but couldn’t really see how her story matched with that of Douglas and Harley’s. To me, she was an unnecessary, though quite interesting, sidebar.

What I loved at the beginning was how Grenville captured three outsiders and their insecurities. They are constantly second-guessing themselves; each character has an almost hyper self-awareness going on in their minds that it distances the reader, yet also makes us remember all those embarrassing moments we’ve had in the past (that probably no one else noticed or remembers).

I almost would’ve liked the entire book to be about Felicity and her journey. Without spoiling too much, Felicity feels out of place in the too-small town, but is drawn towards the butcher for a love affair. She has the self-awareness of the other two, yet at the same time, she’s completely delusional about almost every aspect of her life. For example, she tries to control every minute wrinkle on her face in the hopes of looking youthful as long as she can. It’s pretty close to being in an insane person’s mind — one with a narcissistic personality disorder — and I would’ve liked that to have been explored further, rather than relegated to a supporting place in the story.

I can’t say it’s a book that I’ll remember after reading it, and it certainly wasn’t worthy of winning the prize over Margaret Atwood‘s “The Blind Assassin” that captivates you from the very beginning. I’m taking a break from the challenge for a few days to finish George R.R. Martin‘s “Dance with Dragons” that just came out, but I’ll be on to Ann Patchett‘s “Bel Canto” next. I always see Patchett’s novel on “Best Of….” lists, so I’m excited to see what it holds. I also just read her “State of Wonder” that came out last month, and I’ll be writing a post on great late-summer picks with that one.

“The Idea of Perfection:” C



  1. […] taken me some time to post an Orange Prize update since my last one about “The Idea of Perfection.” That’s because it took me about a week to get […]

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