Sunday, 18 September 2011


THE IMPERFECTIONISTS is a novel about the life of a newspaper, composed of a series of interlocking short stories about the newspaper's staff. It is a good thing I did not know this in advance, or I would never have begun it.

I make it a policy to avoid such books, as they are almost always painfully pretentious exercises in showing off how wonderfully engaged with the post-modern the author is, how he transcends linear narrative with a single bound, how multi-talented he is, revealing life's dazzling complexity, etc etc.

Except Tom Rachman is actually multi-talented. He does pretty much leap over linear narrative in a single bound. I feel like he almost even reveals life's dazzling complexity. I can't get over it. This is a wonderful, accomplished novel. I can't think when last I read a book by a living author that is so technically adept.

Rachman moves back and forth across decades, managing a huge cast of characters in a complex array of situations with unselfconscious elegance. Here's a description of some of the staff, from within one character's world view:
Dave Belling, a simpleton far too cheerful to compose a decent headline; Ed Rance, who wears a white ponytail – what more need one say?; and Ruby Zaga, who is sure that the entire staff is plotting against her, and is correct.
We learn about each of these people, and many more, over the course of the book. We follow Dave, as he gets his revenge after being fired; Ruby, who spends all her New Years Eves in hotels, posing as a businesswoman, so people won't know she is alone; Kathleen, who is almost relieved by the freedom her partner's affair gives her; and so on – you get the idea. Each story is touching, and involving, and interrelates with the other stories in an unforced way.

It's also immensely well observed. Here's one character, Abby, being described as she is on long distance flights:
In this state, she nibbles any snack in reach, grows mesmerized by strangers' footwear, turns philosophical, ends up weepy. She gazes at the banks of seats around the departure lounge: young couples nestling, old husbands reading books about old wars, lovers sharing headphones, whispered words about duty-free and delays.
And very funny:
Arthur's cubicle used to be near the watercooler, but the bosses tired of having to chat with him each time they got thirsty. So the watercooler stayed and he was moved. Now his desk is in a distant corner, as far from the locus of power as possible but nearer the cupboard of pens, which is a consolation.

So. A very fine novel. The New York Times comments:
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.
I agree. Google image search him to feel depressed, aspriring writers. But don't read the book. You will want to give up immediately, in the face of such perfection.


  1. oh my, is this on the secret file of treasures? I've seldom heard you gush so....

  2. it is in the secret file! But be warned, it is more intellectually perfect than emotionally perfect - still, its rare to be perfect in any way!

  3. Sometimes when I read books that reviewers highly recommend and know within me that it would take sometime to get access to, I feel like stretching my hand across the oceans.

    @Di... that's why I really would love to read this because Sarah do recommend but does not dramatise her recommendations.

  4. Wonderful review, Sarah! That quote about Arthur's cubicle being moved, made me smile :) It is great that you found the book technically perfect. I will look for it.