Karen Hamilton’s debut novel, The Perfect Girlfriend, starts with the prologue set in 2000, where a young girl is responsible for her younger brother and it ends tragically. She says that since that day her ‘mind excels at taking me to safe places, whenever I need it most’.
It then takes us to the present day where Juliette is putting into place her plan to win back her ex-boyfriend Nate, who seven months prior, ‘had appeared in a chapter of my life like a scene from a romantic novel’.
The book reflects on Juliette’s upbringing, with a mother addicted to alcohol, dealing with the loss of her brother on her own, and struggling to fit in at school. Nate on the other hand was ‘born into privilege’, and Juliette wants to be part of that world. The desperation that she emits around her relationships with Nate, her old friend Bella, and friendships she tries to develop in her new job evoked my empathy but also made me cringe. It shows how someone with no safety net can end up. Just when I thought she couldn’t go any further with the charade, she took one more step. I was torn between needing to know what happened and wanting to look away. This is a compulsive novel, like a train-wreck in slow motion.