The Perfect Life
reviewed by Carolyn Scott
After her mother died when she was a young child, Vanessa dreamt of having a perfect life with the perfect husband and children living in the perfect house. She thought she’d found her perfect man in Connor Dawkins, but then their relationship started to fall apart as she found it harder and harder to please him.
As life became more stressful for Vanessa, she became addicted to real estate apps, fantasising about living in the perfect houses she saw there with her perfect family. She would make an appointment with a real estate agent to view a house on the market, one she could never afford, and then she would dress up, taking on a different persona. Once in the house of her dreams she would fantasise about the life she and her fantasy family could have there. It seemed like harmless escapism, that is until the owner of one of the properties is found dead in his home and the police identify Vanessa as the last person to see him alive while viewing his house.
Told in two time lines, then and now, Vanessa takes us through the last year as her life starts to spiral out of control, from meeting Connor to becoming estranged from her closest friend, to eventually becoming homeless and jobless, and now a murder suspect. The slow unravelling of her relationship with Connor is well done, although his motivation for his treatment of her is unclear.
The novel builds tension slowly as the scene is set and Vanessa’s relationship with Connor plays out. It’s clear from the outset that Connor is extremely skilled at manipulating vulnerable women. Although his relationship with Vanessa is far from perfect, it takes her some time to open her eyes to that. It’s hard not to become frustrated with her as she tries so hard to be the woman she thinks Connor wants. She’s not an easy character for the reader to empathise with as her difficult upbringing has left her fragile and naïve and far too trusting for an independent woman in her thirties.
It takes a while for the two different timelines to come together and start to gain momentum. Although Vanessa’s addiction to viewing upmarket houses and the associated murder mystery is the more interesting and original theme of the novel, it is dealt with in much less detail than the development of Connor and Vanessa’s relationship and could have been a stronger focus of the book. The climax was a totally unexpected twist, but also felt very sudden and somewhat rushed after the slow build of the rest of the novel. The epilogue does help to tie the different elements of the plot together and see justice served where deserved.
More a domestic suspense than a thriller, this is nevertheless an absorbing read, perfect for a lazy summer read.
With thanks to Penguin and Netgalley for a copy to read. Expected publication August 5, 2021.