It’s time to shake things up a little…
Clare Bailey’s life is perfect. Successful career, loving husband, two kids and a gorgeous townhouse. At least, that’s how it looks like from the outside.
In fact, she’s never felt more invisible. Her boss barely remembers her name, her husband is distracted by his new TV job and her daughter has never found her more embarrassing!
But when she’s given a chance to turn her life upside-down she wonders whether she should risk everything she loves for a life that’s more than just ‘perfect on paper’…?
‘It’s not as if Nigel’s even going to read my memo anyway,’ she griped later to her husband Toby, as they shared an after-work glass of red in their kitchen. ‘He’s too caught up in the whole courtroom thing – he goes to watch Will perform, you know. His rising star.’
‘Yeah.’ Her husband stared at his reflection in the glass-fronted oven and smoothed a stray strand of hair back into place. ‘Tricky.’
‘Can you maybe look at me when we’re talking?’
‘Sorry.’ He turned towards her, his blue eyes looking slightly panic-stricken. ‘It’s just . . . well, I’m having such trouble with my fringe. It’s hard to focus on anything else – you know?’
She’d started to wonder whether her husband’s recent promotion was all it was cracked up to be. After a few comfortable years presenting a section of the breakfast show on regional TV, he’d recently been offered the chance to be a third wheel on the national programme.
This meant two or three days a week he’d disappear to London in the early hours – sometimes picked up by a sleek black car, other times driving in himself to ‘beat the traffic’. He’d become obsessed with what he referred to as his ‘brand’ and begun to ask himself ‘what would Toby do?’ out loud when he was making important decisions such as whether to wear daring red socks or stick to his habitual grey.
One day in three he might get a shot at doing a piece to camera. Last week, he’d interviewed a woman who believed she was in love with her pot plant.
‘Don’t you see?’ he’d said to Clare when she’d made a joke about it. ‘This is a foot in the door of serious TV journalism! There’s talk of me getting my own weekly section.’
‘Your fringe looks fine,’ she said now, impatiently, as he continued to fiddle with it.
‘Are you sure? It’s not too nineties?’
‘No! Anyway, what do you think I should do?’
There was a silence.
‘Lasagne?’ he said at last, his tone uncertain.
‘Toby! I wasn’t even talking about . . . I was talking about work for God’s sake!’
‘Sorry! Sorry,’ his hand returned to his fringe. ‘Look, I was listening. It’s just . . .’
‘But you weren’t, were you?’
‘Yes. You were worried about your, um, work problem.
Well . . .’ he paused for so long she thought he might have fallen into a coma. ‘I think you should do what you feel deep inside, you know, what your gut tells you,’ he continued eventually, patting his lower stomach for emphasis.
‘Hmm,’ she said, wondering what would happen if she really let her gut speak for her. Irritable bowel syndrome – a side-effect of being a successful but busy solicitor – meant
that she was always acutely aware of exactly what her gut wanted to say, and was often desperately trying to prevent it from expressing itself in the middle of the office.
‘Anyway,’ Toby continued, ‘try not to worry.’ He patted her leg and began rearranging his fringe again in the reflection. ‘It’s only working.’
What happened, she wondered briefly, to the attentive, mildly ambitious man she’d married fifteen years ago? The boy with a guitar who’d wooed her when they were at university? The man who, until he’d been catapulted into the realm of Z-list celebrity, had been her soulmate?
In six short months, he’d started a regime of ‘self-care’ that would befit a top model. Special shampoos, endless face creams – she’d even caught him plucking his nose hair with the tweezers she reserved for her eyebrows.
‘That’s disgusting!’ she’d said, grabbing them from his hand. ‘Get your own!’
He’d looked at her, tears in his eyes. ‘But I’m shooting tomorrow.’
‘Oh, for God’s sake, you don’t have to cry about it!’
Now he had clearly been thinking so much about his fringe that he’d forgotten to actually pay attention to what she was saying. She wasn’t even as important as a little bit of hair.
‘What I feel inside about what?’ she challenged.
‘About, you know . . . the work thing.’ His face – always an open book – registered almost pure panic.
‘Toby,’ she said, sitting forward slightly. ‘You haven’t been listening to anything, have you?’
‘I . . .’ he began indignantly.
Have you ever felt invisible to those around you? Is it difficult to get others to see your worth? Then, I imagine you’ll feel quite like the protagonist of Perfect on Paper, Clare. This fun, empowering women’s fiction highlights the struggles of [some] women in their thirties who are tired of feeling underappreciated by their families, and want to shake things up.
Whilst I can’t relate to Clare’s circumstances, as I’m not mid-thirties, married, or have children, I did understand her wanting to be noticed. I’m sure there’s a time in everyone’s life when you’ve felt forgotten, or ignored by those in your life. I love that Clare takes a stand in the most outlandish way by auditioning for You’ve Got Talent by reading out her ‘real feelings’ poetry. Who hasn’t had the urge to do something crazy regardless of the future consequences? It was inspiring to read as she stepped completely out of her comfort zone to fight for change for women. It started the #MehToo (yes, meh, you read right) movement which made Clare realise that she wasn’t the only woman her age feeling the way she did. I feel everyone could learn a thing or two from Clare’s courageousness in standing up for what she believes in and for what she wants.
The storyline of this book is fantastic and I thought it was very uplifting. I’d been in quite the slump myself lately, not knowing what I want to do with my life and all the rest, and I found this book inspiring. It’s made me want to take the bull by the horns (so to speak) and sort my life out. After a difficult year, it’s lovely to read a book that shows you that you can do whatever you set your mind to with a bit of courage and hard work.
The more I read this book, the more I loved it, so I’m giving it 4.5/5 stars. The twists and turns this story took were brilliant and there are some very humorous moments. If you like contemporary women’s fiction, then you’ll love this. It’s so much fun and whilst unrealistic at some points, it easily hooks you and has you rooting for all the characters in the end (well, almost all of them)!