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The Imperfectionists

A Novel

by Tom Rachman

The Imperfectionists
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2010, 288 pages
    Jan 2011, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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Power Reviewer Cloggie Downunder (10/09/14)

A brilliant debut.
“What I really fear is time. That’s the devil: whipping us on when we’d rather loll, so the present sprints by, impossible to grasp, and all is suddenly past, a past that won’t hold still, that slides into these inauthentic tales. My past – it doesn’t feel real in the slightest. The person who inhabited it is not me. It’s as if the present me is constantly dissolving.”
The Imperfectionists is the first novel by British-born journalist and author, Tom Rachman. Set in late 2006 and early 2007, each of eleven chapters is like a vignette of the lives of particular characters who are, in some way, associated with the Rome-based International English-Language newspaper that was founded in 1953 by successful Atlanta businessman, Cyrus Ott. The alternate chapters detail significant events in the newspaper’s history.
While the main plot is straightforward: the creation and eventual demise of the publication; there is a myriad of sub-plots involving the various characters, so that each of those chapters is almost a short story itself, involving some characters from the other chapters. This is reminiscent of Rohinton Mistry’s Swimming Lessons (Tales from Firosha Baag).
Rachman gives the reader a cast of quirky characters: a mild-mannered obituary writer whose superior shows such a lack of compassion at his personal tragedy that it elicits a vengeful response; a business editor who finds herself forsaking friends, family and her own values so as not to be single; a young stringer stranded in Cairo with no idea of how to report; a corrections editor who finally learns the truth about an idolised friend; a dying writer resigned to her fate; a jaded Paris correspondent reaching desperation point; a reluctant young heir whose closest relationship is with his basset hound; a faithful reader who lives in the past, avoiding a certain fateful day; a publisher who founds a paper for the sake of unrequited love; a dreary news editor who forces his own worst fear to eventuate; an editor-in-chief who looks for a lover and finds a much-needed friend; a copy editor who feels excluded, persecuted and on the brink of redundancy; and a financial officer whose unwise decision sees her humiliated.
Rachman involves his characters in the petty politics, conflicts and occasional charitable acts that make up a busy workplace and comprise everyday life. He gives them words of wisdom: “We enjoy this illusion of continuity and we call it memory. Which explains, perhaps, why our worst fear isn’t the end of life, but the end of memories” and ‘Nothing in all civilisation has been as productive as ludicrous ambition. Whatever its ills, nothing has created more. Cathedrals, sonatas, encyclopedias: love of God was not behind them, nor love of life. But the love of man to be worshiped by man.” He gives them throw away lines: “Journalism is a bunch of dorks pretending to be alpha males” and “I suspect that revenge is one of those things that’s better in principle than in practice…there’s no real satisfaction in making someone else suffer because you have”
This novel is often funny, sometimes sad, and the reader will be moved to reflect on the ultimate fate of print newspapers in today’s world. A brilliant debut.
Lit Lover (05/30/10)

Why are Tragic Lives So Entertaining?
A perceptive writer, reporter does not necessarily make a great fictional novelist.

Journalists are addicted to facts and horrific news as the book is evidence of that. Great. But do all readers have to be bashed with the worst part of life to get a kick out of a novel?

Where is the purpose? These kinds of books, like Stephen Kings, take agony and make a diabolical glimpse into the dark sides of folks psyches seem like
a contest to see who can paint the ugliest picture.

I took the book back and didn't care about it at all. The writing is crisp, and clean and inventive and cool, yes, but who cares about ugly facts in fictional journalism? Anyway?

I seem to think that males thrive on death and darkness and women pretend to find purpose even if none is there because it's affirming and kind of
beautiful. I must be crazy,but that seems okay to me.
Bonnie Brody (04/09/10)

A Private Look into the Life of Journalists
Set in Rome, this wonderful novel is about the lives of journalists who all work for the same newspaper. Each chapter can stand on its own in much the same way as Olive Kitteridge.

Many of the journalists hate their jobs, may be misanthropes, have their own personal problems, and are struggling day-to-day. Many of the chapters end with a surprising twist. The reader peeks into their lives as if they think no one is watching, but we are!

Rachman is a writer with a quick wit, great turns of phrase and I would never have guessed this was a debut novel. It is a real winner!
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