One of my favorite books, Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin, includes a story line about a newspaper, The Sun, and the characters' efforts to keep it ahead of its competition. When I started listening to The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, I was fairly certain that I wasn't going to like it much because it is also the story of people working for a newspaper and in my biased mind, it couldn't possibly compare to Winter's Tale. Then Rachman introduced a character named Hardy, where Helprin had a character named Hardesty, and I was even more on guard. But it turns out that The Imperfectionists is a good book in its own right.
The Imperfectionists tells the history of its newspaper, "The Paper" through the stories of the private lives of people who work for it or love it. The Paper was founded by Cyrus Ott, with the intention of creating an international English language newspaper, based in Rome. We start with the story of Lloyd Burko, the Paris correspondent who refuses to use a computer in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Lloyd is becoming less relevant by the day, and tries to reconnect with his kids in the hope of finding a lead on a new headline. In each story, we learn the names of other characters, whose stories will be told later on. I was a little confused when I started reading the story of Abbey Pinnola, because I hadn't heard her name before, and didn't know what to expect from her. It quickly became clear though that I had heard of her, because her co-workers referred to her by a different name that was immediately familiar to me when it was mentioned.
My favorite character was Ornella de Monterecchi. Ornella is The Paper's most dedicated reader, reading every word of The Paper every day. The problem is that Ornella is not a speedy reader, and she works to try to understand everything that is written about, which further slows her down. When we meet Ornella, in 2006, she is reading The Paper from April 23, 1994, and effectively living on that date. She tries to talk to her maid, Marta, and her son, Dario, about "current events" that happened 12 years earlier. Like the sports fan who DVRs a game he couldn't watch live, Ornella does everything that she can to avoid having the "next day's" news spoiled. She has banned technology in her house, and has limited her circle of acquaintance to those who understand her strange hobby.
The Imperfectionists doesn't tie up as neatly as I would have liked. There is a "where are they now" section at the end, which I really appreciated, but I would have liked to know more about Lloyd and his son, Jerome, especially. It felt like we were left with an unsolved mystery in Paris. Is Rich Snyder the guy on roller blades when Oliver Ott has his final meeting at the office? I want to know! This was a 269 page book, that left me wanting another hundred pages. That must be a good thing, though - The Imperfectionists was a NYT Notable Book for 2010.
And that's book number 12 for the Off the Shelf Challenge. 3 more to go, and 6 months to finish them.
Next up on CD: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Still Reading: Bad News by Edward St. Aubyn