Fortunately my reading mojo is strong right now, so I am determined to read through my pain (ie. hide behind a book until we close on Monday) and have plucked down a couple of suitably lightweight titles to tide me over. First up is Skin Privilege by Karin Slaughter (never read her before, how exciting), then I might move onto a YA novel or perhaps Nick Hornby's High Fidelity. Then on Tuesday, everybody's raging colds allowing, my sister and I will be off to celebrate surviving the bank holiday (and break our diets) in glorious style by going to see The Hunger Games. Popcorn and hot chocolate, and a Maccy D's for lunch.... ohhhh, I can't wait! :)
REVIEW: THE IMPERFECTIONISTS (3*)
by Tom Rachman (Quercus, 2010)
Rachman's debut novel has been lauded as a funny, intelligent and quirky look at the inner workings of a failing international newspaper, so I picked it up hoping for great things. Sadly, I didn't find them. It is certainly an ambitious book, but for me Rachman just didn't live up to expectations.
Each chapter in the book is heralded by a headline from the newspaper, and dedicated to one of its contributing characters, including the financial officer, the Paris correspondent and the editor-in-chief. In between these chapters are short italicised segments tracing the history of the paper - how it was founded in Rome by successful businessman Cyril Ott, and the rise and fall of his creation through the decades, as editors come and go and the world changes. It's a really interesting format, and I enjoyed those parts. However, the main chapters themselves fell very flat for me. Clearly Rachman succeeds in his intention to peek into his characters' lives and motivations, slowly building up an interconnected web of people with the news office at its centre. But lordy, they're an odd bunch. I don't think there was even ONE character I really liked or related to, and the theme of 'endings' - the end of lives, relationships, eras, attitudes, and ultimately, the paper itself - meant that every vignette seemed to fixate on the most sad, unpleasant or strange elements of humanity.
There WERE some funny moments - the aspiring Cairo stringer's dreadful flight of description in his first piece was a particular highlight - and even occasional glimpses of optimism, but these were quickly dampened back down again by the big black cloud seemingly hanging over the entire novel. I certainly wouldn't have called it a humorous book - even a darkly humorous one - despite reading several reviews describing it that way. These characters are damaged, every last one of them. Whether they're achingly lonely or pathological hoarders or just despise their work, calling any of them 'average' seems horribly pessimistic. So... no. Maybe it was the depressing tone of the book, maybe it's because I've never worked in a newspaper office myself (some of the best reviews came from journalists who would know that environment inside out), maybe it was the vignette format that never allowed me to get attached to any of the characters. Whatever it was, I'm quite glad I gave it a try, but it just didn't do it for me!
- "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."
- "The loss of one's life is not the greatest loss. It is no loss at all. To others, perhaps, but not to oneself. From one's own perspective, experience simply halts. From one's own perspective, there is no loss. You see? Yet maybe this is a game of words, too, because it doesn't make it any less frightening, does it."
- "Here is a fact: nothing in all civilization has been as productive as ludicrous ambition. Whatever its ills, nothing has created more. Cathedrals, sonatas, encyclopedias: love of God was not behind them, nor love of life. But the love of man to be worshipped by man."