by Azeen Ghorayshi
Oliver Ott has just inherited his grandfather’s international English-language newspaper centered in Rome, and the newsroom is in shambles. With rampant factual inaccuracies, an ever-shrinking readership, and an office best known for its dirty carpeting, most of the staff is beginning to wonder why the paper is even in existence. To make matters worse, the heir to this shabby journalistic throne has even less of an idea of how to steer this quickly sinking ship, let alone how to interact with anyone but his clueless basset hound, Schopenhauer. Things are looking bleak for print journalism.
Real-life reporter Tom Rachman’s debut novel The Imperfectionists centers around the rise and fall of this unnamed newspaper, stringing together the stories of eleven individuals involved with the publication. Each section is written as a relatively isolated narrative. From the emasculating yet stifled editor-in-chief to the compassionate and passionately Internet-averse corrections editor, to the washed-up Paris correspondent whose journalistic scruples appear as weakly-founded as his crumbling fourth marriage, the book lightly examines one beleaguered individual before skipping blithely to the next.
Despite what seems like a slightly dizzying framework, the book is surprisingly cohesive, perhaps because all of the characters experience feelings of self-exile and make similar compromises in their lives, especially in the newsroom. This is a world Rachman knows well—he did a long stint as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press in Rome—and he is strongest when describing the self-cheapening that is so easy to succumb to in the hectic world of news reporting. Rachman avoids making his book seem overly self-serious by painting such a wide array of malaise that each storyline strikes you with less weight, though no less poignance. The effect is a novel that is sardonically funny at times and devastatingly dark at others, where each day brings a new slew of headlines as absurd as the next.