How to be Perfect by Holly Wainwright – Online influence and real life for contemporary women


There are important things in contemporary life, including family, relationships and money. In this book all these things feature, but they are dominated by the social media profiles of three women and many more. Following on from “The Mummy Bloggers”, these women all have control of websites and groups which represent them to the world in certain ways. With understated humour and observations about the variety of lives lived by women today, this is a book with a clear view of the people behind the online personas. There are farcical elements of this book, as set pieces of unusual family life are well described, but there are also dark moments where dilemmas of freedom for teenagers and the use of children for lifestyle presentations are described. Interesting, unusual and fun, I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this very contemporary look at women’s lives.


It would seem that there was an infamous incident in which Elle was unmasked by Abi as an online fraud for making false claims about the health of her father and then husband, Adrian. In this book Abi is planning to marry Grace, and they live with six children on a farm. Adrian was married to Abi, and they share two girls, but he is living in a converted outbuilding as his two sons with Elle live on the farm after she abandoned them. Frances is a new mum with a mums’ Whatsapp group, but she is convinced that her demanding baby Denny is proof that she is a failure. Inspiration is at hand from Elle’s new exclusive website which encourages a lifestyle full of expensive and “essential” merchandise. Frances literally buys into the promises, and is desperate to go to Elle’s retreat centre on an idyllic farm. As Abi’s eldest daughter responds to Elle’s siren song, Frances begins to discover all is not as it seems at the ranch, and Elle begins to see just how tricky perfection can be with a past, much chasing around and wedding dresses, this book becomes a fascinating story of the reality behind the online stories.


I found that this book had much to recommend it. The discovery of the realities of parenthood, the possibilities of communal living, and the online hype of perfection at a price that is not only financial are all vividly presented. The comedy is also well constructed and executed, and this is a funny book. A little confusing at times, the amount of sympathy for Elle is limited by by her behaviour before this novel begins as well as her activities within this book. There are plenty of funny moments captured in this book, especially with the gang of children and the dialogue between characters. An enjoyable read, this is a very contemporary book about the power of online “influencers” to affect people’s real lives, and not always for the best. It is also a human story of the complicated ways that lives connect and overlap, and the pressures placed on teenagers by online images. I recommend this lively book as an enjoyable read and one that has much to say about contemporary life.