Bookseller Information

Publication Date
Publication Status
Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Trim Size
216 x 135mm

A Perfect Explanation


Desmond Elliott Prize 2019

Longlisted for the Not the Booker Prize 2019

Longlisted for The Desmond Elliott Prize 2019

Observer: Fiction to look out for in 2019

The i Paper’s 30 of the best new debut novels to read in 2019

Scottish Review of Books: 2019 in Prospect

As featured on BBC Woman’s Hour, Sky Sunrise and London Live

‘Filled with cerebral intensity and scintillating dialogue’ —The Desmond Elliott Prize

Exploring themes of ownership and abandonment, Eleanor Anstruther’s bestselling debut is a fictionalised account of the true story of Enid Campbell (1892–1964), granddaughter of the 8th Duke of Argyll.

Interweaving one significant day in 1964 with a decade during the interwar period, A Perfect Explanation gets to the heart of what it is to be bound by gender, heritage and tradition, to fight, to lose, to fight again. In a world of privilege, truth remains the same; there are no heroes and villains, only people misunderstood. Here, in the pages of this extraordinary book where the unspoken is conveyed with vivid simplicity, lies a story that will leave you reeling.

Praise for this Book

‘A riveting story about class and inheritance that explores how chance events can kick off a chain of consequences and seemingly minor decisions create catastrophes. It is exquisitely written – it reminded me of reading Elizabeth Taylor or Virginia Woolf. It is crammed with cruelties both big and small and yet Anstruther brings these finely crafted characters to life with both an unflinching eye for their faults and a compassion for those trying to survive in a society where love is rationed. I was utterly gripped – even more so because the story is based on true events. Take note folks, Eleanor Anstruther is the real deal.’ —Tor Udall

‘Gripping and beautifully written, this is a story about motherhood, privilege and women who simply won’t, or can’t, fit in. A brilliant read. I loved it.’ —Eve Chase

‘I read A Perfect Explanation almost between my fingers – such a haunting story, beautifully told, about an exceptional situation that somehow goes to the heart of the many truths, deceptions and lies recognisable in many families. One feels so sorry for each character in turn – Enid, Finetta, Ian, all victims of time, failings and circumstance. The clashes between motherhood, religion, class, gender and personalities are all the more affecting for being portrayed with clarity and fairness. Eleanor Anstruther has written a fascinating debut and an imaginative reconstruction of her own family history.’ —Amanda Craig

‘Although it’s not a happy read, the emotional intensity drives the reader on … and on. The journey of the beautiful socialite in the spotlight, to the sociopath in the shadows is compelling and will, I am sure, hit a nerve for many of the novel’s readers. An intense and thought-provoking read.’ —Essie Fox

‘What a task to take on – diving into the inner world of desperately flawed and broken people and still finding a way to elicit our sympathy. Such a brave, unflinching portrait of a family.’ —Matthew Tynan

‘Anstruther exhumes the skeleton in her family closet with devastating skill. A captivating, chilling, deeply insightful portrait of a family torn apart by responsibilities both taken on and pushed aside.’ —Sam Bain

Reviews of this Book

‘Eleanor Anstruther’s superb debut, A Perfect Explanation (Salt, March), the fictionalised story of the granddaughter of the eighth Duke of Argyll, who sold her son to her sister for £500.’ —Alex Preston, The Observer

‘I have read many stories of minor historical figures and the troubles they encounter despite their privileged existences. This tale offers much more depth and nuance than is typical. The writing pulls the reader under the skin of each character from where they may view the pain of selfish frustrations. There are truly shocking moments yet they are never sensationalised. Rather there is a balance in the telling that allows the reader to form their own opinions. The complexities of family relationships and the pressures these create offer much to consider. A riveting tale of grown children damaged by the relentless actions of their entitled parents. Well paced and skilfully written, this is a haunting, recommended read.’ —Jackie Law, neverimitate

A Perfect Explanation is an extremely engaging story of the bizarre culture of the aristocracy, where love is secondary to money, and the cycle of maternal deprivation across generations is difficult to escape.’ —Annecdotal

‘The book is both a revelation but also deeply poignant as mental illness estranges Enid and her options narrow … Using letters and archival evidence, and acknowledging her debt to her father 'for giving me this story in the first place', Eleanor Anstruther has explored her subject with objectivity laced with compassion. It's hard not to feel desperate sorrow for Enid, and for a family floundering in the face of something they couldn't bring themselves to accept nor understand.’ —Lynne Hatwell, dovegreyreader

‘Eleanor has cherished her role as the family’s retrospective therapist. In her head she listened to the voices of all her relatives; she tried to understand the culture that surrounded them, and she feels she’s finally put their pain and agonies to rest.’ —Joanna Moorhead, You Magazine

‘Gripping, insightful and written with a breathtaking elegance and eloquence that makes this first novel doubly impressive, Anstruther’s beautifully crafted story sets out to examine and understand how the intolerable weight of expectation and responsibility can damage and destroy lives.’ —Pam Norfolk, Lancashire post

‘Based on the true story of Enid Campbell, a duke’s granddaughter whose battles with mental illness cost her custody of her children, Anstruther’s debut novel follows a desperate Enid as she offers to give her son to her sister for £500. With a narrative that moves fluidly between time periods, this is a historical read that really resonates.’ —Woman Magazine

‘Eleanor Anstruther has written an astounding debut novel that bravely and completely brings to life a difficult family history. It also deftly holds up a mirror to our own world and asks us who are we to judge, when behind closed doors our family may not be as perfect as we like to show to the outside world either. I loved it.’ —Years of Reading Selfishly

‘You can’t fail but be touched by A Perfect Explanation and the tragedy of a family torn apart by abandonment, lack of communication and understanding, anger and jealousy. There are no winners in this story, which is the saddest part of it.’ —Over 40 and a Mum to One

‘This is just superb. Elegant, intense, completely bewitching.’ —Xan Brooks

‘I was gripped by A Perfect Explanation, and found it to be a compelling and fascinating debut which explores the extraordinary story behind Enid Campbell, and how a woman coming from a seemingly privileged world is impacted so heavily by the pressures and traditions that surround her.’ —The Owl on the Bookshelf

‘This is a story of family ties and allegiances, deeply buried secrets, status and wealth. It also looks unflinchingly at the struggles of motherhood and mental health. If you’re a fan of family drama’s spanning over a number of years then I would recommend this book, the fact that it’s based on real life events gives it that extra fascinating gravitas.’ —Bookish Chat

‘This is an outstanding family history put together in a way that tells of paths that were demanded to be followed through tradition, heart breaking that children could be used as a means to an end or sadly hidden away. In the epilogue the author describes how the writing of this book came about, Finetta the only one, besides her father that she ever knew. The feelings have been put together as how she believes they would have occurred and this worked perfectly for me. This has to be one of my favourite reads of this year. Just outstanding!’ —Susan Hampson, Books from Dusk Till Dawn

‘This is as much a story of emotional deprivation as of entitlement or riches, and one which underlines that no group has a monopoly on humanity, fragility or fallibility – these are universal and so is this devastating and exquisitely written novel; we are all just people, in the end.’ —Isabel Costello, The Literary Sofa

‘Throughout the book Anstruther perfectly combines human drama and emotion with evocative settings and haunting description. Each individual comes alike thanks to the writer’s skilful descriptions and human-focused narrative, which hones in on each member of the family and brings them to vivid life.’ —Dorset Book Detective

‘This is a fascinating and heartbreaking read. I often find that the books I enjoy the most, are ones with flawed characters who frustrate the life out of me. A Perfect Explanation did that – I really wanted to reach into the story and bang some heads together; and when I didn’t feel like doing that, I wanted to mother the children who were denied the love and care they needed … It’s a fabulous book which deserves a very wide audience.’ —Emma’s Book Blog

‘Writing this, I find myself less concerned with the story – although it’s undeniably riveting – & more enamoured of the storytelling. With the way the author lays her words on the page. This book unfolds in layers of exquisitely fierce prose. The dialogue scalds – characters show scant compassion for Enid & her situation. They are often horribly, crushingly cruel. She was clearly a deeply flawed woman but obviously ill & a victim of the mores of the time.’ —Carol Lovekin

‘★★★★★ It’s a quirk of fiction that the most extraordinary stories are those that have their origins in real human affairs and this is a prefect example of truth proving stranger than fiction. In lesser hands this story could come across as a curio or an idiosyncratic tale but Anstruther has taken something that might appear marginal and imbued it with psychological depth and great emotional understanding. A Perfect Explanation will brings it home to everyone just how connected we all are, how common our unhappinesses and joys can be.’ —Paul Burke, NB Magazine

‘★★★★★ A moving exploration of a life plagued by mental illness, A Perfect Explanation is a tale of historical fiction told through modern eyes – sympathetic, studied, and beautifully written.’ —Luke Marlowe, The Bookbag

A Perfect Explanation, is a fictionalised account of how her father, Ian, came to be sold to her great aunt Joan for £500. It’s a sombre, anguished tale of tradition, motherhood and inheritance within an appallingly dysfunctional clan where “heritage dictates and heritage always wins”.’ —Johanna Thomas-Corr, Observer

‘Eleanor Anstruther never met this troubled woman, but she recreates her with empathy and compassion in this novel, which has been longlisted for the Desmond Elliott prize for debut fiction. Anstruther’s writing is elegant and intelligent, and the closest possible thing to a perfect explanation.’ —Kate Saunders, The Times

‘Almost all the protagonists were dead by the time Miss Anstruther was born, but, armed with the facts revealed to her by her father before he died, as well as family archives, she has used her imagination to bring her family vividly back to life through a novel that is both beautifully written and transfixing.’ —Richenda Miers, Country Life