2017 was the year of the woman-centred psychological thriller and Karen Hamilton’s debut novel The Perfect Girlfriend follows in this tradition.
Juliette is determined to win back her ex -boyfriend Nate. She firmly believes they are meant to be together and after giving him months of space she sets about enacting her plan to see them live happily ever after.
The first step is getting a job as a flight attendant with the airline he pilots for. Hamilton worked as a flight attendant and the insider’s view of the job makes for an interesting setting. The claustrophobic cabins provide a nice echo of Juliette’s psyche; she’s trapped by her obsession and the increasingly elaborate lies she uses to explain her odd behaviour.
The first person, unreliable narrator serves the thriller genre well. Hamilton builds tension by ever so slowly revealing the details of Juliette’s past. As the novel progresses we come to realize that even the most basic facts we have taken for granted, like the protagonists name, are not to be trusted. The depth of Juliette’s insanity is held back and this is Hamilton’s real strength, for the first half of the book Juliette is pretty sympathetic. Yes, her weird and elaborate plan to win back her ex is strange, but she’s suffered a terrible loss and is emotionally fragile. Nate seems to have treated her pretty poorly and given out some mixed signals, so while you don’t approve of her actions you do feel bad for Juliette and hope that she finds some kind of positive resolution. These feelings change by the end of the book when it is revealed that she has been holding back crucial information about her relationship with Nate, and that her scheme is about far more than winning back a lost love.
While the ultimate reveal of the depth of Juliette’s insanity is deeply satisfying the end of the novel is not. Thrillers by their nature often lack complete resolution and a satisfying ending, but in this case it feels like the book just stops in what could have been the middle of a chapter. I am all for suspending my disbelief and going along for the ride, but the final scenes are so wholly unbelievable that I felt they let down an otherwise strong story. It reads as though the author couldn’t quite decide how she wanted the story to conclude so tried for the open ended finish, but in my opinion it just doesn’t work.
My feelings on the ending aside this is a fun page-turner. It’s well plotted and pacey with a more complex protagonist than you find in many thrillers. Give it a read and let me know what you think of the ending!