Friday, June 11, 2010
As a humble financial critic, I don't really "do" book reviews. But I will share a secret (though it won't be one for long) which relates to Tom Rachman's recently released (and amazingly, first) novel entitled "The Imperfectionists". In a form of literary "Pay It Forward", I chanced upon a review a few weeks ago in a broadsheet, a review that was so effusive as to pique my bullshit detector, though I remained sufficiently intrigued that at first chance I nipped into Blackwell's on Charing Cross Road, vaguely describing the subject to one of the staff. Fortunately it was the Fiction buyer who has intimate recall of what he's bought, so I plopped down my depreciating sterling in exchange for a hardback copy.
The novel revolves around a selection of mostly unendearing characters that have intersected four decades in the life of a fictional Rome-based old-school newspaper (presumably modeled, at least in part, upon the International Herald Tribune for whom he reported). The fact that they are unendearing (my spell-check denying the validity of this description) on the surface violates a golden rule which is the audience needs to care about his characters. Yet, Rachman has miraculously stood this imperative on its head, and opted for, as the title suggests - highly flawed subjects - who, one by one, are enviscerated by his narrative, their dialogue events, their choices and actions. Perhaps, this is not incongruous, for it is their flagrant flaws which lure the reader.
Literature Nobel-prize-winner Elias Canetti, in The Earwitness, unmercifully caricatured behavioural archetypes in a parsimonious but brutal assault upon human flaws and their product. It is dark, and however sympathetically critical the reader may wish, there is no attempt to amuse, leaving the reader deeply unsettled, perhaps like Canetti himself. Rachman, focused upon his caricatures, employs satire, wit, punctuated with measured philosophical observations imbued into the dialogue, to reveal their flaws that, unlike Canetti's archetypes, are so real and close-to-the-metaphorical-bone that that reader cannot help but be interested, whether out of morbid fascination or voyeuristic schadenfraude for those harsher judges, though in the honest, I believe there will be sympathy whether deserved or not.
I will not spoil any plots by championing this effort further, but I will advise you - whether for entertainment or to help [temporarily] purge oneself of the knot-in-the-stomach like consequences of systemic discontinuity, to buy it and read it. And Mr Rachman, if you chance upon this plug on your behalf, I will gladly buy the beers if you can reveal even in part, just how you pulled this off.