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Good Literature for Children & Adults

The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville


Australian writer Kate Grenville has become well known for her novels about the early settlement of Australia, Secret River, The Lieutenant and Sarah Thornhill but I first discovered Kate Grenville when her novel The Idea of Perfection was published in 1999.

The Idea of Perfection was one of the books I’d been thinking of re-reading this year, and I did so this summer.

The Idea of Perfection is set in a small outback town, in our own time. Karakarook is a dusty little community, with a main street that hardly exists and a population who have, mostly, known each other all of their lives. I picture a town not unlike the many prairie towns in southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba I drove through this spring – most businesses closed, a few others just hanging on. Almost no one walking on the empty streets – just about a ghost town.

Some of the citizens of Karakarook have decided to establish a Heritage Museum to attract tourists, and a consultant has been sent from Sydney to assist. Harley Savage is a woman with a burdensome past – one she’d like to set aside during her time in the bush. Harley is a quilter – a fabric artist – and while helping the locals identify authentic heritage items suitable for a museum, she works on a quilt of her own. Harley soon discovers that everyone knows everyone and there are no secrets in this town – it is revelation to her to be in a place where differences are tolerated and people live by rules different from her home in the city.

At the same time, the county has decreed that the local wooden bridge is to be demolished and replaced with a concrete bridge. Douglas Cheeseman has been sent from the city to work with the local crew. Douglas has a love for concrete, but as he studies the construction of the bridge, the way in which the original builders worked with the materials at hand to construct a bridge that has stood for all this time, he sees it as a thing of beauty. It is in need of attention but Douglas comes to believe that it can be repaired rather than demolished. This man whose self-confidence has been eroded by his life experience finds it in himself to attempt to convince the decision makers to allow him to save the wooden bridge.

Neither Harley or Douglas expects to find love in Karakarook – in fact they do their best to resist finding love – but it happens.

Theirs is not the only unlikely attraction developing in this dusty town. The secondary characters, especially the local bank manager’s wife and the oriental butcher, are finding creative ways to spend their afternoons.

The Idea of Perfection is altogether a great read – the writing is superior, the story is captivating and it all ends well. If you are a quilter this book is full of all that makes working with fabric such a delight – the magic of designing with fabric, knowing when it works. The Idea of Perfection is at it’s simplest a wonderful story of love found at a time of life, and in a place, where one least expects it to be found. 

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