There's something almost voyeuristic about reading a novel that is set in a workplace. It's like getting a behind the scenes look at how people function and interact in their everyday lives. It's why I loved Johnathan Ferris' “Then We Came to the End” (see my blog). In some ways all workplaces are alike – big dysfunctional families. But when the workplace is an international newspaper headquartered in Rome, as it is in Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists, it's especially fascinating.
Each chapter begins with a headline, a job description and a character name ; a particularly memorable one read: “Global Warming is Good for Ice Creams – Corrections Editor – Herman Cohen”. It may appear initially that the book is simply a collection of short stories about a people who share the same workspace. Some stories are humorous, others sad or bittersweet. But as they proceed the threads that weave them together become clear. We view characters from different angles in different stories, and emerge with a more nuanced understanding of them. They all share a grudging affection for the paper, and engage in gallows humor as circulation flags and jobs are cut.
Interspersed with the character chapters is a running history of the paper itself, from its founding in 1953 to its final days in 2007. Rachman worked for the International Herald Tribune in Paris, and was an AP correspondent in Rome, and his writing captures the tones of humor, irony and poignancy that seem to permeate newspaper life. It's an impressive, sure-handed first novel.
NB - I just read that Brad Pitt ha purchased the movie rights. Be sure to follow Dorothea's advice and read the book first.