The Imperfectionists is Tom Rachmans’s first novel. Rachman is a journalist and former editor at the International Herald Tribune. His novel received rave reviews. This is not exactly one of them.
The novel tells the story of the personal lives of the people working at an international English language newspaper, based in Rome, Italy. A newspaper that rarely makes any money. It spans a time period of 50 years, but it does so disjointedly. Interspersed between each modern-day chapter is the history of the paper.
Each chapter is dedicated to one character. The character development is excellent. So good, that each chapter could be a short story unto itself without tying it all together.
Although very well described and written about, none of the characters seem vibrant. I don’t mean in the way the author describes them, but in the way they live their lives. They all seem tired and worn out. But they are all likeable.
One of my favourites is Abby, the paper’s financial officer. Actually, she is the paper’s whole finance department. Part of her job is deciding job cuts. She ends up on a flight back to America with an editor she just laid off and finds herself romantically attracted to him.
Winston is the kid who goes to Cairo to try to win the job as a stringer for the paper. He meets up with an older journalist, also competing for the same job. The older guy convinces Winston that he is there to help him and basically sends Winston on a few wild goose chases as older guy writes the stories and ends up with the stringer job, leaving Winston not only jobless but with his head spinning trying to figure out what just happened.
Arthur writes the obituaries. He sleepwalks through his boring, hateful job, keeping it only because it allows him to spend more time with he daughter. He is tasked with preparing an obit for someone who is dying of cancer. This someone happens is a feminist the paper’s editor idolizes. While away interviewing the woman, tragedy strikes in Arthur’s life. When he finally returns to the paper, he is a different man. He begins avoiding the heartless manager that makes his life hell and plots his revenge on him.
Kathleen is the editor-in-chief. She and her husband have a so-called ‘open marriage’. That is, until he cheats. When he finds out that she knows, he gives her free rein to have a go at it. She tries to strike up a romance with an old boyfriend, who is also married, but it doesn’t come to anything.
There are a few more characters, who are also richly developed. The man knows how to cultivate these! By the end of each chapter, I wanted more of the character’s story.
I found it difficult to tie the stories together until the middle of the book. Even then, each chapter hardly seemed related to the others until the last couple of them. This is the reason I didn’t much like the book.
The ending was also not pleasant for me. The family of the paper’s founder discovers why the paper was created in the first place. Another tragedy takes place. The character’s lives are each neatly tied up in one paragraph or less.
Although the characters were richly developed and I learned a bit about the newspaper publishing world, I’m not sure I would read another book by this author. I didn’t like how disconnected everything felt to me. The book left me feeling dissatisfied.