Her Perfect Life by Sam Hepburn
The perfect life. The perfect job. The perfect family.
Gracie Dwyer has it all: the handsome husband, the adorable child, the beautiful home and the glittering career. The perfect life.
Her new friend Juliet doesn’t exactly fit in. She’s a down-on-her-luck single parent with no money and not much hope.
So just what is it that draws Gracie and Juliet together? And when the cracks start to appear in Gracie’s perfect life, can both of them survive?
How far would you go to create the perfect life?
How far indeed! Oh, yes, this story sounded deliciously perfect to me and with the claim that it would appeal to fans of B A Paris and Clare Mackintosh, I could not wait to get stuck in.
Gracie Dwyer is perpetually perfect.
When Juliet freezes the face of chef Gracie Dwyer on her TV screen, she can not find any hint of imperfection. There is no kind of flaw anywhere on this woman's face. We have only known Juliet for a page and a half but we can see that her life is very different to that of Gracie. Words such as "groggy", "hangover", "clumsy" and the description of a chaotic flat that we see Juliet tottering around, quickly highlights the contrast between the lives of the two women.
But Chapter Two introduces us to Gracie herself and actually, it's clear that underneath the shiny, polished veneer that is presented to the world, there are in fact slight tensions; tremors that if left to shake may grow louder and more damaging.
The story alternates between Gracie and Juliet although there are more chapters with Gracie and at the beginning I felt that I was being invited to build up a closer relationship with her. She's trying to grow her business, manage a public image, keep her marriage strong and spend time with her daughter while they move house and take on a renovation project. It's all going well but it feels as if neither Gracie or her husband Tom are really facing up to something and Hepburn steadily plants a seed of curiosity that possibly Gracie knows something else or that there might be something deeper and darker lurking behind this 'perfect' family.
Gracie is also the victim of a vindictive messages and anonymous packages that are causing her great distress. The police are involved and the interview with the officer helps Hepburn to remind us that Gracie does not consider her husband trustworthy, has a live in nanny who she is certain she can trust, a very small group of friends but a wider range of colleagues, workmen and business acquaintances with access to her property and life. Our interest in Gracie and the injection of suspense from these anonymous messages raises the tension in the novel and certainly kept me reading on.
This tension is maintained by Juliet and her resentment towards Gracie.
"This isn't a magazine spread. This is Gracie's life. And here she is, Juliet Beecham, finally on the inside, seeing it for real."
Juliet works hard to gatecrash into Gracie's life. Why is she so keen to be part of this woman's life? Why does she push their daughters together so much and then why does she behave so badly when she is given the opportunity to become part of Gracie's life?
"Gracie puts up her hands palm outwards, a gesture of 'don't worry about it' but there's a rigidity in her splayed fingers as if she's warding Juliet off."
Hepburn captures the awkwardness between the two women so effectively. We cringe with Juliet at her behaviour, we cringe with Gracie as she has to deal with Juliet's behaviour. We cringe at Juliet's clumsy attempts to befriend Gracie and her pitiful chase for her friendship and we cringe when Gracie takes advantage of her and then fails to reciprocate. The dynamic between them is really interesting; the way they view their relationship with each other, the way they behave together and what they then reveal to the reader about how they feel about each other weaves an intricate web of suspense and tension across the chapters.
I really enjoyed the twisty journey of the friendship between these women and their interaction. Just as I began to find that I was not always completely empathetic towards Gracie, Juliet reveals a more unhealthy and malign intent behind her friendship with Gracie. In fact Juliet's ability to manipulate her friend is impressive and the calculated way in which she makes comments and orchestrates situations to her own advantage are quite chilling.
"Juliet looks into the doe-like eyes of this woman who has everything that she doesn't - money, a husband, a lover, a life - and almost gags on the rush of resentment."
But Gracie's character is not as black and white as you sometimes think and she is lives in the shadow of Tom's first wife. She is often threatened by a darker past and feelings of insecurity and anxiety. And I don't think we should be too fooled by those doe eyes either!
My feelings towards both the main characters seemed in as much turmoil as the ladies own lives. I found myself smiling at some of Juliet's comments about Gracie and often feeling sympathetic towards her personal situation. However, Hepburn also suggests that Juliet is not entirely responsible, that she drinks too heavily and that she is unreliable which nicely casts a level of tension over the pages. And as for Gracie, yes I felt sorry for her, yes I recognised that she was trying to do the right thing but restricted by particular barriers because of her status and yes I liked her.
How did I feel about them at the end? Well, that would just be spoiling it for you all! You'll have to read on yourselves to see what happens to this not so perfect friendship and what these women will do to create the perfect life for themselves.
I enjoyed this book. I think I was drawn to Juliet more as a character but I enjoyed the exploration of friendship, marriage, parenting, obsession and guilt.
At nearly 400 pages this is quite a substantial novel. It is quite a complicated plot but it is well worth reading until the end as the pay off is satisfying, suitably shocking and as jaw dropping as we have come to expect from any novel worthy of the title 'psychological thriller'. This book has earned that badge. With stripes.
If you like your novels to be full of great themes, well drawn yet flawed characters and an ending that cleverly knits together all the many threads you have just about managed to keep hold of in a twist that reveals Hepburn's potential for being one to watch in the future, then this is the book for you.
Her Perfect Life is published by Harper Collins on 23rd February 2017.
Thank you so much to Goodreads for my ARC which I received as a Giveaway Competition Winner.
Sam Hepburn worked briefly in advertising before she joined the BBC as a trainee and spent twenty years there as a documentary maker. She has been shortlisted for several prestigious prizes and nominated for the Cilip Carnegie Medal for her YA thrillers. She completed Her Perfect Life is her debut psychological thriller while attending the Faber Academy. She has lived and workd in Lebanon, Sudan and Washington DC and now lives in London with her husband and children.
You can follow her on Twitter: @Sam_Osman_Books
For more reviews and recommendations you can follow me on Twitter @katheinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)