Review: The Perfect Affair, Claire Dyer

I received a copy of this novel through Goodreads Firstreads in exchange for an honest review, so thank you to Quercus.  As The Perfect Affair opens, the elderly Rose finishes making tea and decides to retire upstairs, leaving Eve and Myles alone.  They know that she is aware of what is between them, as the opening line proclaims, ‘when it happens, it is, of course, inevitable, as it had been since that moment their hands touched the summer before’.  Both Myles and Eve are married, they have other commitments and yet there is a sense that what they are doing is ‘right’, that it is meant to be, that their love will be different.  That they will have the perfect affair.

This novel has been compared to One Day, which is naturally something that Quercus emphasised in the publicity materials.  It is not in the same league as that, but it is a lovely book just the same.  I have an automatic aversion to novels concerning adultery, I never like it when cheating spouses blame their infidelities on their stalwart partners, as if it is the fault of their steadiness, that they were simply too ‘boring’ for someone to truly forsake all others.  So, I was impressed that in this case, I did feel sympathetic for Eve and Myles, for Rose and Henry and for anyone who ever had that feeling that they might just have fallen in love with the wrong person.

The narrative intersects between Eve and Myles who are drifting towards their affair and Rose’s story, as she looks back on her ill-fated but dearly cherished romance with the married Henry, forty years before.  Dyer writes with restraint and a real sensitivity for her characters, there are no shrewish wives or ogrish husband, just rather two marriages that have become mired in indifference.  Eve’s only real family was Rose, her surrogate grandmother and Myles was an orphan, the two of them have sought a family and yet both of them find themselves in middle age and wondering, how on earth did I get here?  Rather than seedy romances, these are just relationships that have drifted far, far away from their starting points.  I will never be in favour of people giving up on their commitments but Dyer draws very vividly these situations where people had to choose between a lifetime of sharing loneliness with their spouse or happiness with someone else.

The crucial conundrum is whether this is mid-life ennui or true love.  Myles is caught up writing his fictional detective who he had become thoroughly bored with, Eve is in a job that bores her and has a daughter and husband who ignore her.  The elegance of Dyer’s prose lifts this novel from being a fairly run-of-the-mill story of two people running away together to something far more subtle.  The recurring theme is of love star-crossed but burning brightly nonetheless, and despite the unconventional circumstances Dyer makes a strong case for lasting love.  We can all make mistakes, end up down the wrong path but that does not mean that it is too late to pause and think, what can I do to fix this?  What do I really want my life to be?  The answer may very well be more complex than simply whose face you want to wake up to, but The Perfect Affair makes the case for looking boldly at difficult choices and the courage needed to face our true desires.

This novel challenged some of my attitudes about relationships, but at the same time I think that the relationship that proved most important for all of the characters was the one that they had with their own selves, that recognition of their own wants, their own self.  Only by acknowledging and accepting ourselves can we ever hope to find what we want to change, or find someone with whom to have that perfect affair.

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I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Perfect Affair by Claire Dyer
Published by Hachette UK on February 28th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, General
Pages: 400
ISBN: 9781782064848

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