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The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman

October 4, 2012

A story centring around a failing newspaper and the lives of its staff. It sounded so different, unique, from most fiction that I happily snapped it up for a trifling 50p.


The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman, is a story of a failing (unnamed) English-language newspaper, printed in Rome. More specifically, it is a collection of short stories featuring staff from various departments (Assorted editors, copy-editor, accounts, et cetera). Other than the common cast pool and setting, there is not much to link these stories together, but they are each enjoyable in their own way.

The writing is comfortable but engaging. The majority of the characters lean to the neurotic side so the prose is loaded with introspection and second-guessing. However, this never progresses into full-blown navel-gazing and the characters, and thus their thoughts, are distinct enough in their own right to distinguish between the chapters. (Take note, Vincent Lam!)

If there is a common theme to be found amongst the vignettes, it must be relationships. Most characters are more preoccupied with their husbands, their girlfriends, their lovers, mistresses, children and long-time friends to bother with any serious work on the paper. In this light, each story touches on another facet of that thematic leviathan.

Passages between the chapters explain the history of the paper, again using the relationship of love and family to trace the ascent and nadir of the paper. The final passage explains briefly, as so many books do, what became of the characters. Some fortunes changed for the better, some for the worse, while others continued in not-quite-happiness. Art imitates life, then.

If I were to say that this book were philosophical, it is only in that vague way that comes with spending too much time wistfully gazing out of the window. It’s a light book, an enjoyable read that won’t challenge you to any great degree. However, the portraits of various different characters (recognisable in some form to most people, I’m sure) are cleverly drawn with sensitive brushstrokes. If you happen to come across it, and have 50p to spare, why not give it a chance?

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