Book review: Perfect-ish, Jessica Seaborn

A novel of light and dark tones, this 'anti rom-com' book explores how the grass is always greener elsewhere.

Prue has lost her way in life: unfulfilled at work, single and roommates with her brother, all she can see is everyone else’s success. Her best friend gives her three goals to achieve before her 30th birthday, which is less than 12 months away, kick-starting Prue’s journey and this amusing novel.

Perfect-ish by Jessica Seaborn explores what it means to be successful by looking over at the “greener grass” in Prue’s family and friends’ lives, then unfurling the imperfect elements. While Seaborn’s characters are rich and carefully constructed, other elements are only partially explored, steering the novel off course from being fun and stimulating.

All of Seaborn’s characters are complex and flawed, layered by Prue’s perception of them and the hidden imperfections in their lives. It enriches the story because the finer details come back into the plot later on as part of the revelation as to what is really going on. For example, Prue visits her best friend’s favourite jewellery shop, and nothing happens other than gawking at the expensive items. Chapters later, Seaborn brings back a small moment from the shop that not only reveals Prue’s attention to detail, but also the secret her best friend has been keeping.

These small moments showcase the depth of the characters and also Seaborn’s skill for giving all the facts, but keeping the revelation to the most impactful moment. The only character that isn’t fully crafted is Prue’s dad. He comes across as a nice, supportive handyman figure who doesn’t like to upset others. As the story progresses, he doesn’t change; he stays the way Prue has always seen him. Perhaps, this character is a rock in the storm of change, but it also feels like a missed opportunity, a question that will never be answered – what’s really happening in Dad’s life?

Each chapter commences with three Twitter style quotes sharing how fabulous a person’s life is. These people aren’t characters from the book and Prue isn’t interested in social media – she refers to it once at the start of the book while taking a photo, but never mentions it again. The Twitter quotes come across as unnecessary clarification on how Prue is perceiving her world. This is not the only time that ideas are overemphasised, it also occurs during a fight Prue has with her brother Ben where he explains his feelings.

However, in an earlier scene, it is clear through Ben’s actions what his life is missing and it’s hard to understand how Prue is so oblivious that she needs it told. These moments reduce the impact that Seaborn creates through her characters and takes away the joy of figuring out the truths.

Through learning what is imperfect about all the characters’ lives, a new theme comes to light –loneliness. This theme is currently a hot topic in the media and it’s interesting to see how Seaborn weaves it on to the page. Many of the characters’ problems stem from a lack of connection to the significant people in their lives, and this idea is echoed in the various side characters Prue meets through her call centre job.

Prue realises her own loneliness partway through the book, but as it is with all her goals and realisations, she fails to actively choose to investigate or find solutions. Instead, impulsive and poor decisions accidentally steer her to a better life, which is amusing but equally frustrating and unsatisfying. 

Read: Book review: Immaculate, Anna McGahan

Perfect-ish is a novel that draws two heavy themes, perfection and loneliness, together but fails to balance them with the amusing bumblings of a woman trying to improve her life. At times the novel overemphasises the ideas with mechanisms that don’t link appropriately to the story or the characters’ personalities. However, Seaborn’s characters are a delight and create the intrigue needed to read this book cover to cover while chuckling along the way.

Perfect-ish, Jessica Seaborn
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 9781761340031

Pages: 368pp
Publication Date: 15 August 2023
RRP: $32.99

Anita Sanders is a writer based in South Australia. She has written for radio, print and stage including The City street magazine, Radio Adelaide and South Australian Youth Arts Company. She is a graduate of Flinders University’s Bachelor of Creative Arts (Creative Writing) and Deakin University’s Graduate Certificate of Business (Arts & Cultural Management).