Rating: 3 stars
The Perfect Girlfriend offers a very enticing proposition – a romance-tale as old as time, if you will. A crazed ex-girlfriend obsessively stalking her ideal man, with a dash of high-skies peril thrown in as love-obsessive and love-object are trapped together at 31,000 feet. I was keen to give it a read.
The story begins as Juliette – as our protagonist is sometimes known – begins her campaign to win back her ex Nate to whom she was – she earnestly tells us – the perfect girlfriend. Nate is an airline pilot, and of course Juliette signs up to be a steward on his airline, and begins her campaign to get him back through various increasingly outlandish schemes. This is all framed by the childhood trauma that opens the book: namely, her little brother’s drowning while under her supervision.
It’s an enticing genre-fiction scenario, and I was excited to sit down and read the book and see how it played out. There was a lot to recommend it – Karen Hamilton’s own background as an air steward was evident in the level of detail and realism, and Juliette was enjoyably unhinged as a narrator, which was great fun to read.
But those strong elements were, strangely enough, what made this book a less-than-satisfying read for me. A lot of the in-cabin realism grew dominated by admin, and the promise of threat in a locked-in confrontation or power play between pilot and steward never came to pass, and felt like a gun that was loaded and not fired. It felt as if Hamilton was so focused on the detailed realism of life in the air that she did not make enough of the dramatic potential of the situation, and it became background detail rather than heart-thumping drama.
Likewise, Juliette’s unhinged behaviour was always turned right up to eleven, whether she was dyeing her hair the same colour as her new friend and breaking into her house, or conducting some extremely-fast-escalating machinations regarding her ex-boyfriend. For a book called The Perfect Girlfriend, I expected to get more detail on how she had made herself ‘the perfect girlfriend’ in her relationship’s early stages. I couldn’t help thinking about Gone Girl, and that book’s complex and moving critique of the ‘cool girl’ persona. I guess Juliette wears a short dress and cooks a curry once, but apart from this she seems like the worst girlfriend imaginable. I suppose there is meant to be some irony in the title, but we never really see her trying to be perfect. We only see her being a psycho.
So although there was a lot I liked about The Perfect Girlfriend, it left me feeling that some opportunities had been missed. I wanted drama in the skies, I wanted a searing deconstruction of the pressure on women to be ‘perfect’, and though I got a perfectly serviceable thriller, I was left wanting more.
Reviewed by Louise