A couple of weeks ago, there was a Pearls Before Swine comic that joked about how easy it is to waste an hour browsing through the Netflix menu looking for just the right thing to watch. I sometimes have the same problem when I’m ready to start a new book. I usually have at least a couple of library books, plus my home TBR pile, and then whatever’s piled up on my Kindle…
A few days ago, after reading the first page of at least three or four different books, I finally settled on Your Perfect Year, which is one of those Kindle First titles you can download for free if you’re an Amazon Prime member. The book is set in Hamburg and was translated from the German; I got a kick out of the copious references to local landmarks and neighborhoods in a city I’ve never visited, plus the fact that the prose sometimes seemed just slightly off-kilter. For instance, when the protagonist encounters some dog poop on the sidewalk, “He wished he could get his hands on the dog-mess miscreants and their damned curs—he’d have a thing or two to say to them!”
Your Perfect Year opens with a stereotypical uptight protagonist, Jonathan, scion of the founder of a storied Hamburg publishing house, who lives a solitary and regimented life. His father, slipping into senility, now lives in a nursing home, and Jonathan doesn’t have much to do with the business—he leaves that to the company’s CEO. His wife left him for his best friend years ago, and he has avoided relationships ever since.
One New Year’s Day, he finds a tote bag containing a Filofax, with the words “Your Perfect Year” handwritten on the first page. Each date features some instructions, ranging from “eat cake until it makes us ill” (March 16) to “rent a camper and drive to the seaside” (August 25). Many of the directives include a mysterious “H” (“Have your breakfast in bed with H., followed by a walk by the Alster”).
Jonathan has no idea who “H” is, but he finds himself following the diary’s orders, and (of course) it disrupts his highly-disciplined life. In alternating chapters, we meet a young woman named Hannah, who is setting up a child-care business with her best friend and waiting for her boyfriend to pop the question. Obviously their lives will intersect at some point, but there are plenty of surprises along the way.
I embraced the oddness of Your Perfect Year, which I enjoyed a lot more than the somewhat similarly-themed French novel Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One. It’s all too easy for a book about a cranky, set-in-his-ways middle-aged man finding happiness to become cloying, but since Your Perfect Year also deals with some very sobering topics (you don’t encounter many romantic comedies with plots including suicide, divorce, cancer, alcoholism, dementia and parental estrangement), it never feels trite or sentimental. Dieses Buch ist sehr gut.