Can you escape to another country and become another person? Can you really let go of the things about yourself you didn’t like, and be a little braver, wilder, freer? Past Imperfect, by South African writer Emma van der Vliet tackles these questions with gusto.
It follows the story of Clementine who is stuck in a rut, whose boyfriend is far too cool in all senses of the world, and whose family members are a tad overbearing. After an experience that makes her realise she needs something new, she books a ticket to Paris and undertakes a project of self-discovery.
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t thought of going to Paris to live a glamorous french life, eating good bread and drinking lots of wine, and rediscovering or discovering oneself. It all seems very existentially pleasant. Running away from things and living anonymously is an idea that’s appealing to many people. But is it sustainable, and what are the risks involved in running rather than staying? For Clementine, it is certainly something she needed to do, but reality has a way of biting her in the arse more than once, and eventually it becomes a bit clearer that sometimes she’s running only from herself.
The back cover of the book has a review from South African author Andre Brink who describes the book as containing “the funniest and most exuberant sex scene” and it is true that the chemistry that builds between Clementine and Yves is explosive. I think for me what stood out though were the times when Clementine put herself first, rather than succumbing or being bullied into sexual encounters. I liked that she was stubborn, and bold, and brave.
Van der Vliet is a South African writer who lives in Cape Town. She has also written another book called the Thirty Second World. Both are published through Penguin which is exciting because that’s the publishing label I’ll be published under in 2016. Woop!