The novel is told in the form of letters and diary entries. Most of the action takes place in 1864-65, and the early letters are between Placidia and her cousin Mildred, but later sections set in the 1890s focus on how Achilles, the son of Placidia and Gryff, uncovered his parents' secrets and changed the way he thought about them and himself.
I can't say much more without giving away too much. I found the novel held my interest and that the author did a great job of heightening the suspense while slowly revealing the truth. The novel explores the hardships of women left alone to manage while their men are at war, as well as the dark side of slavery, but it also depicts a marriage that, although sorely tried, survives because of love.
The Perfect Girl, also titled much more evocatively, Butterfly in the Dark, is the second novel by British author, Gilly Macmillan. At fourteen years of age, Zoe Guerin, a precociously talented Devon girl, had a promising career as a concert pianist ahead of her. Then she was found guilty of causing an accident that took three teenagers' lives.
At seventeen, now called Zoe Maisey, she has served her sentence in a Secure Unit, and her mother Maria has tried to give them both what Zoe recognises as a Second Chance at Life. But her attempt to restart her career in Bristol is dramatically aborted due to an incident that vividly brings back that tragic event and its aftermath. And mere hours later, Maria Maisey is dead.
Macmillan employs three main narrators (Zoe, her aunt Tessa and her solicitor, Sam) to tell the story, adding another two in later chapters. The bulk of the story covers a period of less than twenty-four hours, but there are flashbacks that detail earlier occurrences.
Zoe's memories of her trial, her interactions with her keyworker at the Secure Unit, and a film script written by her step-brother, Lucas, serve to fill in some of the back story and establish Zoe's state of mind. Both Sam's and Tessa's more mature perspectives establish the nature of the main characters and their interactions.
Macmillan's portrayal of a brilliant teenager and the effects of the accident on her life, and the lives of those close to her, is convincing. Her descriptive prose is evocative: 'Lucas just moved quietly around the different parts of the house and when he settled down anywhere, it reminded me of a dark shadow cast over a patch of white sand".
While the cover's enticer "Nobody knows the truth but her" is quite misleading, this is a gripping tale. All the characters have secrets and several could have motives for murder. Macmillan skilfully builds her story, gradually feeding in clues and red herrings to produce a page-turner that will keep the reader guessing until the truth is revealed. Recommended!
Typewriters feature heavily: there's a typewriter on the cover; there's an image of a different model of typewriter at the beginning of each chapter; sometimes, a typewriter is an integral part of the story, sometimes it has a minor role, and sometimes it just gets an incidental mention. Many of the characters are appealing and a particular quartet who reappear twice after their initial tale might be well suited to have their own novel (in fact, one of their stories was published in a separate volume in 2014).
The stories are an ideal length for dipping into, but also interesting and different enough to read without pause. Topics are many and mixed: refugees in the present day (or near future) and from a half a century ago; travel by car and plane as well as time travel, space travel and travel down memory lane; ten pin bowling; surfing; motel accommodation; moving house; the public relations junket; making it on the stage; the heavy toll of wartime service.
Hanks gives the reader laughter and romance, loyal friends, wise words and plots that aren't entirely predictable. It's easy to imagine Hanks himself as the narrator in many of these tales: his voice is really there, even in the print version. This is an outstanding debut, and if Hanks ever tires of Hollywood, he can certainly direct his energies to the keyboard (whether a typewriter or electronic), as more tales of this ilk would definitely be welcome. Very enjoyable.
As Lillian considers her life, she heads for landmarks meaningful to her: restaurants, a hospital, the Hudson River, places she's lived and her place of work for fifteen years. It was at R.H.Macy's that Lillian Boxfish became the highest-paid advertising woman in America. As Lillian walks, she thinks back on her life: her divorce, her marriage, the birth of her son, her honeymoon cruise, and another, less happy one, to Italy. She remembers parties, work, men, her best friend, homes, her boss, work colleagues, books she wrote and editors. A hospital stay and a certain TV appearance are among the less-favoured memories.
Despite the cautions and concerns of her son, she walks through the streets of New York on this last night of 1984, and she encounters its denizens: a limo driver at a loose end, a barman, a restaurant maître d', a security guard, a kindly dinner host, an angry homosexual, a terrified expectant mother, a helpful and courteous shop assistant and some disaffected black youths. She dines, drinks, shops, parties, gives away money and writes a bill of sale.
Rooney's story is based on an actual person, but is quite definitely fiction. She paints a marvellous picture of New York over a span of sixty years, and this is a tale that would appeal to readers familiar with New York City, but more especially, to residents of the Big Apple. The Boston Globe calls it "A witty and heartfelt ode to a city" and this is a most apt description. A moving and entertaining read.