14 November 2011

The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman

I had never heard of this book until a friend lent it to me, but thanks to giving my students in-class midterms, I read the whole thing today, and it was de-lightful. Warm, clever, and highly enjoyable. What made it especially interesting to me is the way it is a kind of bridge between the short story and the novel - it's basically a series of interconnected vignettes about a newspaper in Rome, and the people who work there. The stories essentially stand alone (as one reviewer on the back cover gushes, each is worthy of publication in the New Yorker on its own merits - an exaggeration, but only a slight one, really), and what weaves them together is less that various characters resurface here and there, but the overall framing of a single newspaper - whose history is interwoven amongst the various tales in a kind of longer story broken into pieces and sammiched between the rest, forming a kind of giant narrative hoagie (sorry, couldn't resist). At the same time, it's not a novel, and it's kind of interesting to think about why. I think it's because the vignettes are so very short story like - they really only give you the middle of the action, and often end with sudden twists or cliffhangers. It's on the verge of feeling gimmicky, but it's used just this side of sparingly to make it work, not to mention, some real human feeling behind it, rather than the cheekiness of a writer pleased with his own cleverness.

Overall, a really enjoyable book, much recommended.

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