“The Imperfectionists” is a great work of Tom Rachman. By no means has the book the feel of a debut or a contemporary novel; written in a rich, experienced and mature hand by such a young writer, the quality is specific to seasoned novelists of 60s and 70s -Jeffery Archer, Irwin Shaw league to be precise. It was almost like reading Kane and Abel with cell phones and internet! So thrilled to have someone in the current writing world who hopefully will take writing as a full-time profession and write more and more!!
The story is about a newspaper incepted in 1950s and spans geographically between Europe and America and other parts of the world. All but one (who is a reader) characters are the staff falling pretty much everywhere in hierarchy of this nameless newspaper. The characterization is done very expertly with an insider’s view and cubist lense.
Couple of things about the book upfront, to make sure I am alluring the right kind of readers to read it- it is not a novel very strong in plot; not sure if plot was not the emphasis here or is this how Rachman has established and will present himself as a writer in future. The other thing is the storyline is not very “conclusive” and may leave you not very full! So if you are reading for a novel with all its loose ends neatly and securely tied in a bow, this may not be the book you want to spend time reading but you will not find in paucity the great reflection of human nature through these characters, along with oddities, foibles that we all have in various degrees in our own secret self and world.
So with that said- here is the praise: the characterization is just remarkable as aforementioned. There are about 12 characters and the newspaper is central to all of them. Each chapter is devoted to a character, alternated with account of the paper itself. Rachman does a fabulous job of going over the psychology of all his characters and even on lifespan of few of these men and women. He interlaces the story as one or the other cast appears in different chapters but all these accounts could be standalone short stories as well. In that manner the book reminded me of Maeve Bicnhy’s work in “Whitethorn Woods” however of course Binchy’s novels are a complete different topic and sub-genre for fiction, but the depth with which Rachman details human nature and society are quite like the well-known and experienced writer. Other than bringing these people to life for readers, there is a very realistic, but touchy account of the journey of journalism and reporting in the last and current century from print to screen, touch to vision, tangibility to virtuality. The chronology thrown in using paper headlines of certain breaking news creates a great background in one of the chapters!
The book merely has no one protagonist or antagonist just as all us average people are – gray! Soon as I finished the book, I just started Rachman’s next work, “Rise and Fall of Great Powers” and a quote from the latter seems to describe the “The Imperfectionists” very well: ‘Whose story? Is this my story, with my start and finish, and you are supporting character? Or this is your story, Tooly, and I am extra? Or does story belong to your grandmother? Or your great-grandson, maybe? And this is all just preface?”. As readers, we like to bind ourselves to relate to the heroines and heroes and are prepared to hate the villains but reading such a perspective counts for a fresh nice read! No matter how much we strive to “perfect” ourselves, we are in our own way imperfectionists!