Fighting this weird insomnia I seem to have lately, I’ve been reading a new release I picked up at work. We don’t get a lot of fiction in (our focus for the magazine is journalism so all the titles we review are pretty much non-fic) so it was a bit of a score to find a book that doubles as a novel and a collection of short stories. All that AND it’s a fun read!

So I’d been planning to try to write a review of it, and then my impetus arrived in the form of a call for (paid!) book bloggers. So here goes nothing.

The Imperfectionists – By Tom Rachman

Working in the media, there’s a curious dichotomy between the generations. You see a lot of aging journalists you’ve always put on a pedestal suddenly getting down and dirty alongside you to Twitter, for example, as established journalists seek to keep up with a rapidly changing media landscape. But then you also see year after year of disenfranchised media graduates who are less interested in seizing opportunities to self-publish on the internet than they are in smelling newsprint with their byline and joining hacks’ happy hour at the pub. I can’t lie – I too fantasised about newsrooms clouded with cigarette smoke, typewriters thrown out of windows in protest and scoops started on the backs of beer coasters.

Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists plays into a lot of charming stereotypes of print journalism, but it’s not all over-romanticised. It’s a novel divided into chapters that stand alone as short stories, each following an employee at a Rome-based international daily. A cuckolded Paris correspondent faces down old age, while the power bitch managing editor juggles a burgeoning affair and constant calls to cut staff; an unlucky-in-love business reporter turns a blind eye to her backpacker boyfriend’s dodginess, while an alienated obituary writer orchestrates a career coup after the death of his child.

These well-drawn characters’ personal lives are totally intertwined with their work, which anyone who’s ever tried maintaing a relationship with a journo will attest to. Prodding along the narrative are little vignettes from the paper’s conception, providing scenes of vibrant, profitable, booze-sozzled journalism that are like porn for today’s reporters.

So if you’re looking for an insight into the newsrooms of the present and the past, The Imperfectionists could be a great start. Pretty soon newspapers could be a thing of the past altogether. And perhaps most delicious of all will be watching to see whether any of ex-journo Rachman’s former friends and colleagues recognise themselves… (see also thinly veiled media memoirs like The Devil Wears Prada).

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