A few weeks ago, we went away for our annual night in a luxurious hotel: January is a great time to get a bargain. (I’m saying annual so I can insist we do it again, by the way) Picture me chilled out from the hotel spa, relaxing on a lounger and unable to go in the steam room because I needed to devour this book. The Perfect Girlfriend was the perfect book for my getaway.
Juliette has reinvented herself, becoming a flight attendant to get closer to pilot Nate. He may be her ex-boyfriend, but not for long. They were perfect together. She will do whatever it takes to be with him again. Finding any means to insert herself back into his life, she will follow him anywhere. She she will become what she knows he wants: The Perfect Girlfriend.
From the moment Juliette applies the tacky pink lipstick I was hooked on the woman, someone who knows how to “look calm and controlled” and as we get to know her, we learn the extent of the control she asserts over her life. I was hooked by the twists and turns of the mind of Juliette as she lurches from one devious plan to another to win Nate back into her life.
The strong, and at times unstable voice of the main character has this odd appeal. As she reveals those who may have wronged her, including the mean girls at school, you can’t help but side with her. This is a great strength in Hamilton’s writing, the slow reveals of details, this whisper of a back story that involves her brother Danny. All of it makes you feel sympathy for Juliette when really, we can see from the first pages, that she is at best scheming.
Much like Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, we are misdirected by the appeal of her character. She manages to get back into Nate’s life in some ways that I won’t spoiler for you, but it is chilling. The thing I think that is most interesting to consider is that if the character were male, attempts to be so controlling would be abhorrent. There is a double standard which I think speaks to the history of the character’s relationships, how she has been treated in the past that makes us think again about whether her behaviour can be understood, if not forgiven.
It is the strength of the novel that the author plays on the use of technology, while of course it shows the tight plotting, it also shows how relaxed we have become by a modern the accessibility of online stalking. By virtue of the life she is leading she has isolated herself so some of the other characters we only get to know through her unreliable narration. No-one is very likeable, Bella, Miles and particularly Nate leave us cold.
I love that we get the detail about the life of a flight attendant. Karen Hamilton has been a flight attendant for many years, and her knowledge of the rigours, of the routes and maybe even some of the drama too, really comes across. I did find some of the details slowed down the narrative, like when they fly off on one of their trips and do some tourism. At times I perhaps was a little incredulous at some of the coincidences that happen with these flights.
But still, the journey Juliette goes on makes sense to us. The details about that lifestyle that Hamilton shares explains why Juliette is compelled to join the nomadic life of a flight attendant. It suits her personality a bit too well. And like the pink lipstick, only superficially glamourous, it seems.
The real master stroke is the unravelling of Juliette’s plans as the stakes are raised again and again in the final hundred pages. The unexpected consequences of her actions make for great twists that keep coming. Even if at times you want to read only half-looking through your fingers.
Overall this fascinating thriller had me gripped over a long weekend and will be the perfect book if you’re flying off somewhere.