The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman is an interesting study on the varied personalities within the environment of a floundering international newspaper. an English language daily paper.
The novel revolves around the characters, alternating between them, to depict a story of the individuals in a connecting manner. In fact, each story could actually be a novella on its own. For me, the characters were weak, and fledglings, within the structure of the newspaper, biding their time. The employees of the newspaper were not uplifting or inspiring, but rather a set of depressed and somewhat pathetic expatriates living in Rome.
I did not care about their outcome or what happened to them. Even with all the vivid word images and the clever and well-placed prose, there was too much repetition, too much babble within the pages. After a few chapters, The Imperfectionists became a drab story to read, but finish it I did, because I had read so many excellent reviews of it, that I kept expecting the novel to change, to become more illuminating.
For instance, Lloyd, a Paris correspondent is willing to do anything for a story, for a byline, including encapsulating his son within the pages. Another character is Arthur, who is the obituary writer. He sits at his desk, doing little, collecting a salary for naught. On and on it goes.
Their flaws are shown, their tragic moments and their few funny moments are displayed, but not with a strong sense of intensity. The glue for the newspaper is the founder, Cyrus Ott. We get glimpses of him throughout, along with his relationship with Betty Marsh, the co-founding editor. Maybe Rachman traces the decline of the paper, through the diminishing, emotional involvement of its employees.
Speaking of illumination, although The Imperfectionists takes place in Rome, there is not much mention of the city, itself, no descriptive depictions of the surroundings that the newspaper is located in. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting a travelogue, yet it was extremely noticeable that not much is mentioned about Rome. I get it, I do. I realize the story line is about the newspaper and the individuals behind the scenes, but Rachman could have given the reader a bit of radiant information, here or there.
The fact that Rachman chose to connect all the characters within The Imperfectionists by alternating stories, did not work well for me. Most of the characters, in my opinion, had no substance, motivation or depth to them. I think the fact that he chose to alternate their stories had something to do with my impression of them, as individuals, and as a whole within the network and scheme of the newspaper.
I am sure Rachman was trying to portray each person the way he did to coincide with the fact that the newspaper was in a state of deterioration, and those within the network were having trouble maintaining their own lives, never mind motivating themselves to save the paper. Still, there could have been more history, more light within the darkness. The employees were like the members of a dysfunctional family. I am sure that the dynamics and interactions painted by Tom Rachman were intentional, and meant to portray them as such. If that was the case, then he succeeded.