I picked up The Imperfectionists on a whim, really. It hadn't been on my radar until someone recommended it to me at a bookstore over Thanksgiving, so I bought it, partly because I loved the black negative space of the cover. Needing a break from some of the larger books I’ve been plodding through, I started reading it and was surprised at how much I absolutely loved this debut novel from Tom Rachman.
The book throws you into the chaotic life of a struggling international newspaper based in Rome, as told through the voices of the different copywriters, reporters and editors who work there. Interspersed between the stories of the characters in the present are short chapters that follow the founding and evolution of the paper under Cyrus Ott, including the Ott family saga. The stories themselves are a mix of tragic and comic elements, focusing on the everyday problems of the characters; sometimes the paper plays a large role in their lives and sometimes it’s merely in the background. The emphasis is really on each character’s peculiar life and the way in which the newspaper touches them. Though the themes in each account are common (adultery, death, disillusionment, loneliness), the prose is timeless and crackles with wit and satire. Many of the chapters had me laughing and I was genuinely sad to finish this novel because I wanted it to keep going.
The overlapping and interconnected way in which the narratives are written really worked well. Instead of being simply a collection of fragmented short stories, they all weave together to form a cohesive overall chronicle of the minor peaks and eventual decline of a small newspaper and its employees. Not surprisingly, the book is written by a newspaper man himself, which gives it an air of authenticity and credibility. Though he claims to have always wanted to be a writer, Tom Rachman was a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press and an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris before attempting this book. While the novel may suffer from over-hype and somewhat clichéd metaphors, its charm lies in the quiet awkwardness of the characters and it would be a crime to dismiss it.