Flamingo, £10.99stg

Once in a while a book comes along that, no matter how hard one tries to find fault with it, proves flawless; 'The Forms of Water' is such a book. Of course, nothing in life is perfect but, unlike the Auberon family who feature in Andrea Barrett's latest work, her novel comes as close to perfection as we can hope to expect.

'The Forms of Water' tells the story of Henry Auberon, his sister Wiloma and their 80-year-old uncle Brendan. Henry and Wiloma were brought up by their grandparents after their own parents were killed in a tragic car accident; Brendan has spent his life living by rules – in his monastery and now in an old folks nursing home where he is forced to spend his final years. Each is filled with regret and remorse and full of dreams of what could be or what might have been, but it is Brendan's determination to catch a final glimpse of his parental home, flooded 50 years ago to create a reservoir, that ultimately leads Henry, Wiloma and their extended families on a journey that allows them to come to terms with the hand life has dealt them.

The subtly and richness of Barrett's writing brings to life a cast of truly great characters. Brendan's quiet wisdom, Henry's bitter dejection and Wiloma's desperate confusion are brilliantly portrayed through humour, fantasy, nostalgia and a growing acceptance of stark reality. Barrett also creates a wonderful supporting cast, from Wiloma's daughter Wendy to the other residents of the St Benedict's nursing home. Together they complete a true picture of everything that is good and bad about family and reveal what we've always known – that different generations are destined to make the same mistakes and that the same hopes, dreams and fears plague us all, no matter what our age.

There may be no happy-ever-after ending and still plenty of questions unanswered, but Barrett does not let her readers down as each character comes through her story with a greater understanding of themselves and each other.

Amanda Fennelly