I had expected The Perfect Girlfriend to be a story of obsessive romantic love, albeit gender-flipped with the woman being the obsessed stalker. To an extent, it is — Juliette becomes a flight attendant at the airline where her ex-boyfriend Nate is a pilot. She stalks him and gets super jealous of any new romantic interest in his life.
But I love that Karen Hamilton subverts the genre even further. Juliette’s obsession with Nate isn’t just because he was an amazing boyfriend that she can’t seem to let go, but rather, it’s tied to her experiences at school as a scholarship student longing to fit in with her wealthier classmates. Hamilton does a great job of crafting Juliette’s personality from childhood, so we see her aspiration towards a better life, and her pain and anger at being denied this. Even her attraction to Nate is tied to an earlier obsession with Nate’s sister, a popular girl at Juliette’s school and one of the wealthy students Juliette aspires to emulate. Hamilton does give us a solid reason for Juliette to consider Nate such a significant figure in her life, but even beyond that, we get a sense of Juliette being a Ripley-esque figure, more enamoured with the kind of life Nate represents than with Nate himself.
I also love that other characters sense something off about Juliette. Nate’s sister could have been a stereotypical mean girl at school, but she later admits it’s because she gets creepy vibes from Juliette. And even as an adult, Juliette’s efforts to fit in are hampered by other characters feeling something not quite right. This makes her a more tragic and a more human figure than the usual stalker trope, where the victim is often isolated because no one else in their life can see anything wrong with their relationship. We get the sense that even without Nate in her life, Juliette would still struggle to find happiness, because she tries really hard to fit in, and fails because of this very eagerness.
Finally, I love how Hamilton continuously ramps up the stakes throughout the novel. Just as you think Juliette has done something so egregious that she can’t possibly top it, Hamilton has her doing something even worse. Juliette’s master plan is both so utterly horrific and so utterly tragic that we find ourselves sympathetic to Juliette even as her actions make us recoil on a visceral level.
Juliette is a fantastic anti-heroine, one who creeps you out even as you reluctantly find yourself understanding where she comes from. I thought I knew what to expect when I began The Perfect Girlfriend, but Hamilton pleasantly surprised me with how the story actually turned out. I was totally hooked on this story and loved it.
Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.