Fresh Blood

Name: Suzanne Bugler

Title of Book: This Perfect World

'...a novel of aching suspense...'

Laura Hamley is a woman to be envied. She has a handsome husband, two beautiful children, a lovely home and a very good life enriched with other mothers who want to be seen as her friends. But Laura’s life is threatened when she receives a phone call that transports her to some of the most horrendous days of her life – her school days. Laura was not bullied – she was THE bully and it is the mother of her victim, Heddy Partridge who is now asking Laura to once again be part of their lives.

Heddy Partridge is now in a hospital for the mentally unbalanced. Heddy was the epitome of everything that Laura found, and still finds repulsive. All her childhood, Laura fought against Heddy being a part of her life, a chore that was enforced on her by her own parents. But Laura did everything she could to make Heddy’s life a misery. And until that phone call from Heddy’s mother, the fat girl who smelled never even entered Laura’s mind, nor her perfect world.

Now, Laura tries to help the Partridge family as quickly as possible with the minimum of fuss to her happy lifestyle. But as Laura begins to recall her school days and the torment she put Heddy through, Laura’s reproachment of her younger self begins to create cracks and fissures within the perfect world she had created for herself.

‘This Perfect World’ is an examination of bullying and being bullied. It also shows that the lines between bully and the bullied can blur and that one can become the other through different circumstances.

With marvellous pace and insightful and sometimes painful accuracy, Bugler paints a watercolour where the picture can blur and become something else entirely. This novel is not a thriller nor is it a damsel in distress scenario. This is a painful still life of how torment in school can lead to many years of abuse and self abuse and how the bully can be as much of a victim as their own victim - demonstrating that nothing is ever as cut and dried as you first thought. Bugler does not for one moment make 'Laura the bully' sentimental. And throughout the novel, Laura is portrayed as a selfish and unlikeable woman whose only worry is her social standing within the group of mothers she holds up as friends. It is when her world turns upside down that Laura appears to become retrospective and finally able to see that what she did all those years ago was utterly unforgiveable.

This book is a novel of aching suspense rather than murder. Much like the wonderful and yet forgotten suspense author, Celia Fremlin, Bugler touches on such issues as class, social standing, the possibility of losing the façade that has been built and how others perceive us. Bullying is an issue that has horrified the nation – especially now that bullying can be done so easily over the Internet that the victims can never escape their tormentors. There were certain parts of the novel that made me feel nauseous and during the reading of this book I felt conflicting emotions throughout. To make a reader feel such a tumult of emotions is surely the good sign of an excellent writer.

With thoughtful prose Bugler never tries to sensationalise her chosen subject, but through an excellently told story, gives her reader plenty of food for thought.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
I write about the dark underside of apparently ordinary lives; about the triggers that make us behave the way that we do, and the consequences of that behaviour. And I like to write in the first person because you get a real sense of immediacy and intimacy with the central character. However I think you’d find it hard to pin me down to any particular genre!
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
The books I like to read have a strong psychological thread running through them, but you wouldn’t necessarily think of them foremost as being crime novels. Among my favourites are Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal, Vladimir Nobakov’s Lolita and Deborah Moggach’s Porky. All of these books deal with a crime, yet as novels it would be difficult to slot them into any given genre. They are all excellent in many ways.
3) ‘This Perfect World’ deals with bullying in school. You describe in precise detail why people bully others. Have you ever been the victim of bullying?
I came across a few minor incidents at school as probably everyone does. I was very much aware that there were those who did the bullying, those who were bullied, and the rest of us who got by on a mixture of fear and chance in the middle.
4) Laura appears to have built herself the ‘perfect world’ in adult life but this is only on the surface. Did you feel that Laura was getting her come-uppance when her own life begins to fall apart in the way it does in your novel?
Absolutely, and I think she felt that too.
5) Laura becomes the victim of a type of bullying by people she thought of as friends. Did you want her to feel how Heddy felt when Laura had tormented her at school?
No; Heddy had it much, much worse. I think the point is that Laura doesn’t really have any true friends; she just mixes with people she considers to be like herself. Their reactions to her are no more than she could really expect.
6) Some of the tactics and whispering campaigns by the other mothers is very disturbing. As a mother have you ever been involved in such vendettas? Did you worry that some people you know may identify themselves in the book?
The school gates are a very scary place; there is so much competition. It is a definite pecking order. I tend to distance myself a little, and just observe. Obviously I hope that no one I know will recognise themselves in the book but the truth is there is a little bit of all of us in there somewhere. We’re all human.
7) Bullying has claimed many young lives in recent years. Is it these tragic deaths that prompted you to explore this highly emotional subject?
It’s heartbreaking to think of any young person suffering like that, and with constant access to social networking websites and mobile phones it is impossible nowadays for victims to ever escape their bullies. But what is it that drives people to be so cruel? What goes on inside their heads that they feel the need to put others down? This is the angle that I really wanted to explore.
8) What are the qualities you look for in another writers' work?
The quality of the writing; a good writer uses language to create a sense of atmosphere and place and to develop real, convincing characters. A strong voice is essential; that’s what gives every book its uniqueness.
9) Who would be your dream cast of movie actors for an adaptation of your story?
Kate Winslett, Emily Blunt, Helena Bonham Carter… I’m not sure who would play Heddy, though.
10) Without giving away the plot, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers really made my skin prickle. It’s so beautifully written, and so sinister.
11) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
That’s a difficult one! I love old films; the original adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles gave me nightmares for years. It’s so incredibly atmospheric. And I love The Talented Mr Ripley.
12) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
I’m definitely a fan of the crime novel when that crime is spun out with psychological tension. I love that awful, scary feeling that it could happen to you! Graham Greene is the absolute master, and I love Patricia Highsmith too.
13) What is your favourite read crime of all time?
That has to be Patrick Suskind’s Perfume – such a brilliant, original tale, and so evocatively written.