Jessica Seaborn’s debut novel #Perfect-ish (Penguin Random House 2023) is described as a ‘smart, funny and heartfelt anti-romcom’, and so it is, a bright, clever and sophisticated contemporary genre that focuses on women in their late 20’s or early 30’s who are navigating ambitions, dreams, family, work and life goals. Romance and/or the decision about children is certainly there in the background but it is not the main narrative. This book (and others such as Michelle Upton’s recent Terms of Inheritance) is light-hearted and easy/fun to read, but simultaneously explores a range of topical and meaningful issues.
Prue is almost 30 and can feel her life beginning to slip away. While her friends are getting married and having babies, or striding ahead in their careers, or travelling the world, she has just been dumped by her fiancé, dropped out of uni and is working at a counselling hotline service for lonely people that only makes her own loneliness more apparent. She has a distant relationship with her family, and constantly feels overshadowed by her brother Ben who began writing porn but now makes millions churning out erotic novels beloved by women the world over. Prue lives in his house, which only hammers the nail in deeper. She and her best friend Delia decide she will achieve three goals before her 30th birthday: to ditch her job, to move out of her brother’s house, and to find love.
The book is divided into the 12 months of the year, and each begins with three social media posts (probably tweets…or is that X’s now?), from random people ‘living their best lives’ with hashtags like #mumlife#bestfriend#happiness#dreamcometrue#love#journey#adulting#firsthome#bff#beachlife#fitnessgoals#holidays#worththehangover#girlsgonewild etc. You get the picture. Everyone but Prue seems to be chasing their dreams, achieving their goals and revelling in their perfect lives.
But maybe seeming to have a perfect life is not the same as actually having a perfect life? When Prue’s friend Delia’s ‘perfect’ marriage begins to fall apart, and a secret comes between the two women, Prue questions the idea of a perfect life, and as the story progresses, comes to the realisation that perhaps being perfect-ish is just as good or even better.
This is an entertaining, contemporary comparison about the lives we think people live through their social media posts and their outward behaviours, and the reality – that most people muddle through, make mistakes and bad decisions, that they are picture perfect one day and a hot mess the next. This story is all too real, showing the raw vulnerabilities of people who might look like they’re sailing along but are really paddling like mad beneath the surface. And while this is an accessible and easy read, the characters take the reader along a journey of discovery about some serious issues, especially related to self-esteem, forgiveness, family dynamics, interpersonal relationships and motivations.
This is the perfect-ish book for those in their late 20’s and early 30’s who are juggling the many balls life is throwing at them, or for those who remember the days when that struggle was real. Seaborn’s writing is sharp, witty, erudite and funny. The dialogue is pitch perfect. The characters are warm and endearing, despite – or perhaps because of – their flaws.