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The Idea of Perfection

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  2,745 ratings  ·  267 reviews

Harley Savage is a plain woman, a part-time museum curator and quilting expert with three failed marriages and a heart condition. Douglas Cheeseman is a shy, gawky engineer with jug-handle ears, one marriage gone sour, and a crippling lack of physical courage. They meet in the little Australian town of Karakarook, where Harley has arrived to help the town build a heritage

Paperback, 416 pages
Published June 8th 2001 by Picador
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Average rating 3.63  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,745 ratings  ·  267 reviews

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Ron Charles
Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Readers who are particularly successful and good-looking, please skip to the next page. Kate Grenville has written a book for the rest of us. Everyone who's ever returned from a great date to discover toilet paper trailing from their shoes will cling to "The Idea of Perfection" like an old friend.

This Australian winner of Britain's Orange Prize tells the story of Douglas Cheeseman, a chronically shy engineer, and Harley Savage, a museum curator who's been having a bad hair day since
This book had lots of elements that I often don’t like, and yet…

It was quite slow-paced, but with a great turn of phrase. I have recently whinged about several books just being too slow for me while I’m impatiently waiting for something to happen, and this book should have made me feel like that. And yet…

I hate it when authors don’t indicate speech using quotation marks. Why do we have quotation marks if people aren’t going to use them? It wasn’t until page 62 I realised
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
I re read The Idea of Perfection because I remember absolutely loving this book. Set in a small town in the Australian bush, it’s an amusing story in an atmosphere of awkwardness of a romance of two people who have given up on love. They learn that they have flaws and that perfection does not exist within our nature and only in our minds as an ideal where they uncover the truths already embedded in their minds.

Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: general-fiction
It doesn’t matter whether you live in the fictional Karakarook, NSW, or Kirkcaldy, Fife. If you’re one of life’s awkward people, you’ll recognise your self conscious self anywhere.

Harley Savage is outwardly confident, inwardly a bag of nerves, unsure of herself and of everyone else, although she assumes that they’re good with people and she’s not. I love how Grenville puts all the hackneyed phrases we live behind in italics to emphasise how hard we try to be what we think others expect us to be - the
Connie G
Nov 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two plain, middle-aged people come into the rural town of Karakarook in New South Wales around the same time. Harley was working as a museum curator, helping the townspeople set up a heritage museum. Douglas, an engineer, had been assigned the job of tearing down an antique wooden bridge, and replacing it with a modern concrete version. Both harboring personal problems and socially awkward, they tiptoe around each other while an attraction develops. An abandoned dog that "adopts" Harley helps br ...more
I spent most of the month not reading this book, because of other events going on in my life, but have now finished it. I didn't enjoy it as much as some of Kate Grenville's other books, but I did like the idea of writing about real people: shy, awkward, not outwardly attractive but with good qualities buried inside them and waiting for the right person to discover and appreciate them.

I found Kate Grenville's use of italics a bit irritating, but her descriptive writing is lovely: ...more
Sep 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, australia, audio
Perhaps it was the sound of this book that I liked so well, for undoubtedly it was the language that resonated in these descriptions of people and the bush. I liked, too, the story of a fabric artist finding inspiration in a bridge, an engineer seeing beauty in the spaces between things. I liked the idea that men and women can still find the possibility of love in unlikely places even as they age, though it seems perhaps too much fiction to think that we would expose ourselves. The performance o ...more
Adele Jones
Mar 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Kate Grenville has made a significant contribution to Australian literature throughout her writing career. Having experienced the quality of her work in the past, I really expected to enjoy this book. The premise around which the story develops is one that provoked interest, and the writing itself is rich with description. As much as I appreciated the superior skill with which Grenville draws out the nuances of each scene and character, at times the pace of the developing story suffered for the ...more
Carolyn Mck
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Still an all-time favourite after being read many times.

I understand that Kate Grenville was encouraged to write something 'lighter' after the very dark novels, Lilian's Story and Dark Places. Since this was written light and dark have continued to be strong themes in her writing.

Harley Savage comes to the rural town of Karakarook to help the locals establish a heritage museum. But what the locals see as heritage differs from what Harley sees and wants. She is after the 'old stuff t
Sep 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-star-rated
My second book by this author and I am just as impressed by her beautiful language as I was in the first. Her books are not page turners, but meant to be read slowly and attention paid to the turn of phrase. This takes place in a very small town in Australia (with a population of around 1350) so the people may seem boring to those of us living in a city. However, I was very taken with their simple lives and how happy they seemed.

Ms. Grenville again makes you actually feel the heat, t
Jun 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: womens-prize
My overall impression of this book is that Kate Grenville has mastered the art of making the boring interesting. It tells the story of two socially awkward, middle-aged, unattractive people who find themselves in an unprepossessing outback town. Neither the people, the town or the stray dog have much going for them, but with some good, humorous, descriptive writing, the author made me want to read about them.
There is a third outsider, who is not unattractive, but is just as self-conscious
Sara Foley
Jul 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is fabulous. As a reader, I loved the story and her descriptions of the characters and small town. As a writer, I was wowed by her use of language, her observation of the tiniest things, and the way she wrote about some of the very same themes that I write about - living in country towns, and the alternating feelings of connection and claustrophobia, and the idea of life as shades of dark and light, beautifully illustrated by the quilts metaphor. Beautiful! Bravo!
Cy Garcia
Jun 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was actually my mom's copy but she complained about the font every time she tried reading it so I did what any reasonable daughter ought to do: I stole it. Or maybe borrowed (with no intention of returning it-- as of now).

Anyway, since this book was originally "meant" for women her age, I don't know what to expect after I picked it up from her shelf. The title itself was interesting enough. But the story. Well, that's a different topic.

The book was basically about th
Jan 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Writers,
Kate Grenville demonstrates here her great subtlety of observation and influence as a writer. From the smallest of towns she selects a few characters for their very ordinariness, and gradually displays their deep commitment to their own individual and internal values. Through the introduction of a couple of out-of-towners, who are there by invitation of the locals, she displays how what is lacking in the big city for these individuals can be discovered by the freeing up of space to be able to ap ...more
Shonna Froebel
Nov 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
On a recent visit to B.C. a very knowledgeable clerk in Tanner's recommended a couple of books to me. We'd had a short yet interesting conversation and I bought two books on her recommendation. This is one of them.
I'd read Kate Grenville before, but liked this one even better than the other I'd read.
Set in the little town of Karakarook, New South Wales, this follows three characters: two visitors and one who lives there.
Douglas Cheeseman is an unprepossessing middle-aged man wh
Aug 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Well written, interesting and very unusual. Brilliant descriptions.
Mar 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
The Idea of Perfection is the fifth novel by Australian author, Kate Grenville. Set in the dying country town of Karakarook, NSW, pop.1374, the story revolves around the Bent Bridge: the Heritage mob (Karakarook Heritage Museum Committee) believes it can attract tourists; the Shire councillors want to tear this now-dangerous construction down.

Enter divorcee Douglas Cheeseman, engineer from the Lands Office, in town to tear down the old bridge and start construction of the replacement. A self-co
Aug 20, 2009 rated it it was ok
In a few words: an old bridge, a smalltown outback community and lots of social awkwardness.

A slower burner of a book. It took about half way through to get going in terms of the plot, but events were less important in my enjoyment than the development of the characters and the slow immersion into the life of the Australian outback town in which the book was set. the characters were very well drawn, making it almost uncomfortable reading as their self-consciousness and inner turmoils were slowly re
Sep 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The story actually revolves around 3 people in a small town called "Karakarook".
1.Harley Savage - a museum curator
2.Douglas Cheeseman- an engineer
3.Mrs.Felicity Porcelline - a common but beauty conscious housewife

Different people meet at a small place, different ideas, different relations, differents views and problems.A place where things dont happen, things are known, things that not cared about and people simple enough and easy with their life.

Writer has beautifully wri/>1.Harley
Aug 11, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: disappointment
In order for the plot of this plodding book to work, Harley must be a sympathetic character. She's not. I also found it hard to believe that a museum in Sydney would allow one of its staff to remain in a backwater for weeks to carry out a job that would have taken a couple of days at most. Felicity and Freddy offer some helpful comic relief, but it wasn't enough to sustain this pointless and overpraised trudge through the outback. The author has chosen to dispense with quotation marks in dialogu ...more
Apr 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
Boy this book was pretty boring. Extremely well written but just goes to show that little something missing ie. a spark of interest means the world.
Mediocre characterisation meant that the main characters were a mystery for most of the book. The only interesting tid bit in the whole novel was completely overshadowed by the terrible culture stereotype. I couldn't even get a grasp of what it was Ms Savage did exactly? Was she an extraordinary craftswoman? No just sewed 'little bits' of fabri
Mar 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
This book, along with Stoner, by john Williams, is probably the best book I have read in 10+ years. I love Grenville's title and her weaving of three individuals working to grow beyond their need for perfection as they visit a small Australian town. The insights and introspection are beautiful, plain and honest, giving you wonderful nuggets of language that Grenville either collected for many years, or is able to just stitch into the dialogue as she thinks of them. At the end of the book, all th ...more
Elisabeth Bibbings
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Isn't it a refreshing change when the hero and heroine aren't perfect?
Harley and Douglas are awkward, gauche, unsure of themselves, knocked about by what life has done to them - like most of us. She's a "greenie", keen to preserve the heritage of the small town where she has been sent from Sydney. He's the engineer, with a passionate interest in concrete (I found myself wondering if he has Asperger syndrome). He's been sent to destroy the ancient, buckled bridge which is a metaphor for the
Lisa Matthews
Feb 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. The book was endearing in so many ways, and simultanously achingly painful and beautiful in its exploration of two very ordinary, lonely people. Grenville's prose is sublime, especially her description of the harsh, Australian country as well as its depction of a small, rural town. However, some of the sub-plots were not quite convincing enough to fully engage me, for example, Felicity's story, which is why I could only give it 3.5 stars.
Mary Lou
Aug 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Douglas and Harley really just lack the social skills everybody else has to some degree. Thrown together in a small Outback town, they like each other, but just can’t get it right.
As I’m falling behind in my reviews I only need to say I loved this; funny, tender and written with such insight, a worthy prize winner.
Jan 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved every minute of this book! Highly recommend it!
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m a sucker for small town stories, and it appears that it doesn’t matter where that small town is located. Kate Grenville paints an entirely realistic picture of Karakarook, a small Australian town, which although apparently isn’t real, could very easily be. The desolate main street, everyone knowing your business, the searing Australian heat and vocal wildlife all place you firmly in the story and from the first few pages I knew this was my kind of book.

Having said that, I’m not t
Feb 02, 2009 rated it liked it

This novel was for me an introduction to the writing of Australian writer Kate Grenville. It was passed on to me by an Australian Bookcrossing friend, while she was visiting Italy last year and I have been looking forward to reading it since then. I am really glad that she warned me that the characters in this novel are not typical Australians, as they are certainly a strange collection of eccentrics!

In my opinion it took the first two thirds of the book for the story to bui
Carinya Kappler
Apr 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
The word that best describes Kate Grenville’s characters for me in this book is “endearing”.
Her story is set is a small rural town called Karakarook. Sadly the economic woes that are common to most small farming towns are making the future of Karakarook very dismal. Even the expert advice sought in desperation from the “big city” experts comes in the form of a big-eared tongue tied engineer with vertigo and a large shapeless woman claiming to represent the historical and creative arts sect
May 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Socrates said "An unexamined life is not worth living." But, I think there can be two much examination. The two main characters in this novel examine and question and rethink every movement, expression, and comment they make before they are finished making it. So much so that they are practically paralyzed into inaction. They refuse to believe that their flawed appearances and characters can be attractive to anyone, professionally, socially or romantically. Despite this, they revel in making ske ...more
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Bailey's/Orange W...: * August 2019 The Idea of Perfection 18 21 Sep 23, 2019 10:59AM  
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Kate Grenville is one of Australia's best-known authors. She's published eight books of fiction and four books about the writing process. Her best-known works are the international best-seller The Secret River, The Idea of Perfection, The Lieutenant and Lilian's Story (details about all Kate Grenville's books are elsewhere on this site). Her novels have won many awards both in Australia and the UK ...more
“It was a long time since whe's been young and it was unlikely that she'd ever been lovely. She stood like a man, square-on. Her breasts pushed out the old tee-shirt, but it was clear from the way she stood that she'd forgotten about breasts being sexy. Her breasts made bulges in her shirt, the same way her knees made bulges in her black track pants, that was all.” 2 likes
“All this, grassy paddock, cows, trees - he had thought it was Nature. But now he could see that that was ignorance, or lack of imagination. It was not Nature. It was actually property. 0 likes
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