REVIEW: How to be Perfect by Holly Wainwright

In brief: Elle Campbell is back, reborn as a wellness blogger/influencer. But how did she land on her feet? Will her promises of rejuvenation cure tired new mum Frances? And will former rival Abi get her wedding amongst the family chaos?

The good: It was crazy good fun with never a dull moment.

The not-so-good: Elle – I don’t know whether to admire her or hate her.

Why I chose it: Sounded like a fun read – thanks to Allen & Unwin for the copy.

Year: 2018

Pages: 343

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Setting: Eastern Australia

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

How to be Perfect isn’t the title of a self-help book, but rather a novel that is cheeky satire of the whole wellness online influencer movement. You know what I’m talking about – green smoothies, detoxes, forgiveness and endless energy captured in flawless Instagram pics with an inspirational quote. They seem unachievable in your life of rat running and lunch at the desk with whatever you could put together, but there’s an essence of hope that it could be you if you just got it together. In this day and age, who hasn’t clicked on a title that promises to make you happy, healthier and have more time? In this novel, Elle Campbell has taken those wishes and capitalised on it with a blog behind a paywall, social media perfectionist envy and an exclusive, expensive retreat to make the best you.

It’s a smart move and you can’t help but be intrigued by her mind for business. It’s even smarter when you learn of her background (which you will know if you’ve read The Mummy Bloggers – I haven’t, but I felt this novel gave me more than adequate background). Elle’s a fallen blogger who capitalised on fake illness to become a superstar. After being brought down by her rival Abi at a blogger awards nights, she disappeared from screens. But in the background she was plotting and planning. Now she’s using Abi’s daughter to capitalise on her natural cosmetics line and has her ex-husband and children living with Abi. (Elle and Abi just happen to share an ex-husband). Abi is livid, as the chaotic farm lifestyle is wearing away at her current relationship and upcoming wedding. Can Abi get to the bottom of what Elle is doing without ruining her own life?

Throw into the mix Frances, a harried mum whose only solace is Elle’s posts and potions. She’s stretched the family finances beyond their limits to buy the exotic ingredients for Elle’s smoothies and just knows that the answer to all her troubles is a week at Elle’s retreat. But Frances is hiding from her own demons and meeting Elle might cure that, just not in the way she thinks…

How to be Perfect is a fun read with a lot of chaos that makes the book even more amusing. It does cover quite a few serious issues beyond the glossy filtered surface though. Abi is a blogging guru in her own right, but her family life is frenzied. Abi is a character that moves like a bulldozer with no subtlety whatsoever (she gets the best sweary lines in the book) but she fails in looking into the fine detail of the lives of her loved ones. Her heart is in the right place, but it comes out of her mouth as %^&*$^&#. Throughout the novel, she grows and realises that slowing down is okay. Elle is a character that I am mixed on. I have to admire her business brain and tenacity to get what she wants, but she (like Abi) loses focus on what is truly important. She’s scheming and conniving, but honest with herself about it. When greeted with someone who plays like her, but dirtier, is when she falls apart. Like the other characters, she’s missing out on what’s important to focus on money and clicks. Frances is an excellent contrast to the others, being Mrs Average and the recipient of Abi and Elle’s online images. Her devotion to Elle’s every word begs the question, what are the responsibilities of online influencers? Should things be glossed over (or blatantly lied about) in the pursuit of a particular image? What is social media perfection doing to the self-esteem of those who are reading?

While raising these heavy questions, and looking at other issues like violence and online nudity, How to be Perfect is still a story full of satire and wit. It’s often laugh out loud funny and never fails to be entertaining. I can’t be certain that we’ve seen the last of Elle but I know whatever she does next will not fall into the shadows.


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