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Book Review: A Perfect Square

A perfect square is a number that can be expressed as

the product of two equal integers

I had the great pleasure to be offered a copy of A Perfect Square by Isobel Blackthorn in exchange for an honest review. Having loved Isobel's last release, The Drago Tree, I was only too happy to oblige.

A Perfect Square is published by Odyssey Books, an independent Australian publisher and is now available for purchase (I recommend it!).

Set amid the fern glades and towering forests of the Dandenong ranges east of Melbourne, and on England’s Devon moors, A Perfect Square is a literary thriller of remarkable depth and insight.

Reading Isobel Blackthorn’s stories is like engaging in high calibre wordplay. The words wash over you, move through you, and lift you intellectually. I always feel smarter with having engaged with Isobel’s intricate use of description and word structure; more connected with the world I have been part of, and drawn in to the love, pain, confusion, realisation, and happiness of her characters as they travel along the paths she has set out for them. They feel to me like real people. I want to know them. I wonder whether perhaps I do; not in this fictional incarnation, but in the people, the artists, I know grappling with creativity and self realisation.

In A Perfect Square, Isobel shares with us the story of daughters; artistic, creative, rebellious daughters. Two families, similar in makeup and dynamics, but on opposite sides of the world; connected yet unknown to each other. The main characters are living in Melbourne. Harriet an artist and Ginny a musician; mother and daughter skirting around each other, their relationship strained by an absent father, Ginny’s ex boyfriend, differing artistic temperaments, and opposing philosophies. Harriet, in an effort to reconnect with Ginny proposes a combined exhibition: music and art, and the phases of the moon.

The second family, Judith an artist and daughter, Madeleine university student, appear to be living similarly strained lives albeit in England. The links between the four women, artistically and familial, are subtle and are slowly revealed as the story is woven.

Isobel’s use of synaesthesia as the trigger for Harriet's artistic flow is resonating; describing in words a particularly visual concept that has correlation to a writer opening the flood gates to let ideas flow; hearing dialogue in the voice of characters, and seeing in the mind’s eye the characters body language, all working together to become a story. And Ginny’s creative flow; turning concept into story and then into music. By the way, Isobel, when can we hear the music that goes with this?

This is a literary work. Full of rich and detailed description and sentences that can take you on a journey from one paragraph to the next. You will need time to read this so that you can absorb the quality and appreciate the lyrical flow of the story. Do not be daunted! You will be carried gently and with purpose from start to finish, pausing occasionally to contemplate the ideas presented to you, and then, nodding in agreement with the story, moving on to the next and the next until you come to final understanding.

As I write these paragraphs in review of A Perfect Square, I realise that I'm writing about movement; in music, painting, storytelling, life. I want to turn on my favourite music and let my creativity loose. But this story, like any journey, is also about the processes and the steps needed to get to a certain point. The connecting of the two storylines is also cleverly and artistically done, and I am left wanting more. This is exactly where a writer wants her readers to be; so connected with the characters and story that they want to know what happens next in their lives. Well done, Isobel!

I bring away two quotes from A Perfect Square.

“Too many composers view composition as something that happens to the individual, not something the individual steps inside.”

“Her creative sensibilities knew that above all it was the flow that mattered, the sequence and the intervals between the pairings, and that somewhere within it all she would find the music.”

Right, somebody find me canvas, paints, and a piano. I'm off to my studio to create!

Purchase A Perfect Square from

To learn more about Isobel and her other books and projects, visit her website:

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