Harley Savage, patchwork expert and part-time curator, arrives in the small town of Karakarook to help establish a heritage museum. Douglas Cheeseman, somewhat antithetically, arrives to supervise the demolition of a historic but badly decaying bridge and the construction of its replacement.
They are both misfits, painfully aware of their incongruity, and resigned to bafflement at the seemingly magical facility most people exhibit in getting on with others.
They are also deeply wounded by failed relationships, and by their perceived failures in living up to family expectations.
For two people so tortured by self-consciousness, inhabiting a small community as outsiders is like living under Klieg lights.
They are attracted to each other, but have many practised methods of getting in their own way. Nevertheless, fragments of intimacy begin to accrete, and a stray dog does its best to help things along.
Meanwhile, Felicity Porcelline, the wife of the local bank manager, copes with the constant threat of self-awareness by waging daily blitzkrieg against the signs of ageing, repelling existential dread from behind an exfoliating mask.
She is no less wounded, in her own way, than Douglas and Harley, but unlike them she lacks something to tether her to a world of meaning and agency.
For all their anxiety and self-loathing, Douglas and Harley are able to express their true selves through their work. Felicity has no such outlet – her work is the constant reinforcement of appearances, and the zeal with which she pursues it is quietly horrifying.
The Idea of Perfection is a novel about awkwardness, about the necessity of imperfection, and the needless suffering that is inflicted when we ignore the strength and beauty of the world simply because it is knotty, and patchwork, and sometimes falling to bits. It is sad, and funny, but above all profoundly compassionate.
Next time, the 2015 UTS Writers’ Anthology, Strange Objects Covered With Fur. Until then, be kind to your books, and to each other, and happy reading.