This first novel by Tom Rachman, a London-born journalist who has lived and worked all over the world, is so good I had to read it twice simply to figure out how he pulled it off. I still haven’t answered that question, nor do I know how someone so young — Rachman turns out to be 35, though he looks even younger in his author photo — could have acquired such a precocious grasp of human foibles. The novel is alternately hilarious and heart-wrenching, and it’s assembled like a Rubik’s Cube. I almost feel sorry for Rachman, because a debut of this order sets the bar so high.
...immensely readable ... Rachman leaves little doubt that he's writing what he knows well. His novel is sprinkled with hard-won observations ... If forced to find fault with The Imperfectionists, one might point out Rachman's occasional tendency toward cuteness, of bow-tying every loose end in gilded ribbon, of fighting too hard against imperfection ... That said, this book is filled with gorgeous writing, jolts of insight and narrative surprises that feel both unexpected and inevitable. One finishes reading The Imperfectionists with the sense that Rachman not only knows his way around a newsroom, but is also well acquainted with storytelling masters such as Anton Chekhov and William Trevor. Rachman makes a near-flawless debut.
If Tom Rachman's first novel has a flagrant drawback, it's that his account of some of the tribulations facing the modern newspaper man (and woman) is unlikely to send any wide-eyed recruits scampering towards what on this evidence is a deeply neurotic profession ... To move his story forwards, Rachman offers 11 representative figures, whose personal lives are intimately connected to the paper's slow decline ... All this is played out with – in most cases – a fair degree of subtlety ... At the same time there are drawbacks to the short-story-collection-as-novel form, particularly one set around a newspaper, where the metaphorical tide can sometimes sweep in a little too violently for comfort ... Then there is the novel's faint yet persistent resemblance to Joshua Ferris's And So We Came to the End, much of whose obliquity and ground-down communal spirit it shares. But these are quibbles. Anyone who has ever spent time in newspaperland will recognise The Imperfectionists high degree of authenticity.
However bad things are for them, journalists can take some consolation from the fact that their situation cannot be quite as disastrous as at the fictional newspaper portrayed in The Imperfectionists: a funny novel of the sweet-and-sour variety, its humour leavened with real sadness ... Tom Rachman has worked as a foreign correspondent and his characters, although exaggerated, ring only too true.
With keen insight, Mr. Rachman takes us into the minds, self-doubts, and insecurities of the newspaper world, but finds it difficult to get underneath the characters’ skins. He provides the essentials of who, what, when, where, and why (like a good reporter), but tends to minimize the impact that events and relationships have upon the characters. It feels as if they are talking about or thinking of their lives, as opposed to being in them—the sense of being kicked in the gut or feeling the shattering of one’s dreams was sorely absent from the narrative, even in moments of intense loss or heartbreak ... The Imperfectionists is a good book if you wish to know more about the inner workings of putting out a newspaper and the ongoing challenges being faced in the news-publishing world. There is also an interesting and well-crafted beginning and end. If you wish to read something that has more of an emotional punch, however, you may want to pick up another novel—one that doesn’t sound as much like one newspaper story after another.
This acute début portrays the world of neurotic journalists...at an English-language paper in Rome. Vignettes introduce us to various characters: a naïve Cairo stringer; an obituary writer unable to address the death of his daughter; a canny business writer blind to the scam in her love life; and a corrections editor who is crusading in the office but kindly outside of it. The ironies may sound obvious, but Rachman, a former editor for the International Herald Tribune, paints the characters’ small dramas and private disappointments with humanity and humor.
Tom Rachman’s debut novel, The Imperfectionists, is neither fetishistic nor entirely nostalgic: It’s a strikingly efficient, slim saga of the rise and demise of an English-language newspaper ... Rachman writes cinematically, but not in the usual sense. His prose is propelled by quick edits. He cuts to scenes like a screenwriter, with paragraphs leaping forward in time without a page-break to prepare readers for the jolt. The reportage style gives the novel a clickety-clack newsroom buzz befitting its subject ... The Imperfectionists is a lovingly rendered tribute to a increasingly bygone era, and a page-turner for those still in thrall to turning them.
Rachman, a correspondent for the Associated Press stationed in Rome, according to his book-jacket bio, captures the lay of the land, in prose that is fittingly functional, dispensing, for the most part, with unnecessary flourishes, efficiently doling out pertinent particulars with a simplicity that is so striking as to be deliberate ... Some of the stories are more successful than others in conveying the final insight, though most fall somewhat short of the Joycean epiphany that is the prototype ... The short stories are meant to tie together through collision of characters, the intersection of themes, the classical unities of time and place; under the auspices of these commonalities, they are, we are lulled into believing, something greater than the sum of their parts...this is rarely the case in The Imperfectionists. ... Given that Rachman is clearly concerned with the impact of the web on the traditional newspaper, it seems fitting that he adapt his writing to internet possibility, but, for this reader anyway, the aptness of the adaptation cuts both ways. Yes, it extends the novel’s cultural lease, but something—something intangible but very, very important—is lost in the accommodation. Is a newspaper still a newspaper on the Internet? the newspaper’s staffers ponder. Is a novel-in-stories still a novel?
Each of Rachman’s stories focuses on a different staffer, and from one to the next he deftly hits all the notes on the emotional scale ... Perhaps the unnamed paper is deserving of the destiny that looms over it in these stories. But by the time its fate has become clear, it’s hard not to greet it with a touch of sympathy engendered by Rachman’s vivid tales.
The novel’s rich representation of expatriate existence surely benefits from the author’s experiences as an AP correspondent in Rome and an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris; his thoroughly unglamorous depictions of newsroom cubicles and editorial offices will resonate with anyone who’s had a corporate job. But, while the newspaper is its unifying factor, the narrative’s heart beats with the people who work there. Rachman’s ability to create a diverse group of fully formed individuals is remarkable ... Each is vivid and compelling in his or her own way. The individual stories work well independently, even better as the author skillfully weaves them together. Cameo appearances become significant when informed by everything the reader already knows about a character who flits in and out of another’s story. The novel isn’t perfect. The interpolated chapters about the paper’s past aren’t very interesting; the final entry ends with a ghastly shock; and the postscript is too cute. Nevertheless, it’s a very strong debut. Funny, humane and artful.
In his zinger of a debut, Rachman deftly applies his experience as foreign correspondent and editor to chart the goings-on at a scrappy English-language newspaper in Rome. Chapters read like exquisite short stories ... As the ragtag staff faces down the implications of the paper's tilt into oblivion, there are more than enough sublime moments, unexpected turns and sheer inky wretchedness to warrant putting this on the shelf next to other great newspaper novels.