THE IMPERFECTIONISTS by Tom Rachman, Book Review

The Imperfectionists is Tom Rachman’s acclaimed debut novel.

Tom Rachman The ImperfectionistsThe Imperfectionists Synopsis:

Fifty years and many changes have ensued since the paper was founded by an enigmatic millionaire, and now, amid the stained carpeting and dingy office furniture, the staff’s personal dramas seem far more important than the daily headlines. Kathleen, the imperious editor in chief, is smarting from a betrayal in her open marriage; Arthur, the lazy obituary writer, is transformed by a personal tragedy; Abby, the embattled financial officer, discovers that her job cuts and her love life are intertwined in a most unexpected way. Out in the field, a veteran Paris freelancer goes to desperate lengths for his next byline, while the new Cairo stringer is mercilessly manipulated by an outrageous war correspondent with an outsize ego. And in the shadows is the isolated young publisher who pays more attention to his prized basset hound, Schopenhauer, than to the fate of his family’s quirky newspaper.

As the era of print news gives way to the Internet age and this imperfect crew stumbles toward an uncertain future, the paper’s rich history is revealed, including the surprising truth about its founder’s intentions.

Spirited, moving, and highly original, The Imperfectionists will establish Tom Rachman as one of our most perceptive, assured literary talents.

(Penguin Random House)

Disclosure: If you click a link in this post we may earn a small commission to help offset our running costs.


The Imperfectionists is structured as a series of easy to read vignettes that provide the necessary background for each of the characters, an eclectic mix of people that are linked by their association with the paper over its history. The  titles for each of these chapters are written as newspaper headlines, such as ‘Global Warming Good For Ice Creams’ and ‘The Sex Lives of Islamic Extremists’.  These chapter headings are just one of the ways Rachman displays his appealing wit and tongue-in-cheek sensibility throughout this novel.

Clint Oakley, Arthur’s boss, is a dandruff-raining, baseball obsessed, sexually resentful Alabamian with a toilet-brush mustache and an inability to maintain eye contact. He is also the culture editor, an ironic posting if considered. “Rectum,” he says, apparently meaning Arthur, and struts back to his office.

If history has taught us anything, Arthur muses, it is that men with mustaches must never achieve positions of power. Sadly, the paper has not heeded this truism, because Clint has authority over all special sections, including obituaries.

The novel and subject matter shift from laugh out loud moments to the immensely moving and profound.

“But my point, you see, is that death is misunderstood. 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?”

“We enjoy this illusion of continuity, and we call it memory. Which explains, perhaps, why our worst fear isn’t the end of life but the end of memories.”

The honesty with which Rachman has developed and then exposed his characters to his audience in The Imperfectionists is refreshing and compelling.

I was so enthralled that I read this novel in one sitting, never quite knowing what to expect around the next corner. It’s a real page-turner. And it is quite apt that I did read this title in paperback given the underlying tone laments the loss of print media’s ascendency to electronic information channels.

With The Imperfectionists Rachman has not managed to hit the dizzying heights of Colum McCann’s Let The Great World Spin or David Mitchell’s The Cloud Atlas in regard to the novel of interlinked stories format. Having said that, the latter titles are pinnacles of this literary form and a tough benchmark to aspire to.

The wonderful humour used throughout this novel only heightens the sense of tragedy that pervades it. Misadventure, things left unsaid, opportunities lost… In The Imperfectionists Tom Rachman has written a very personal and intelligent story that contains something for everyone to identify with.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5

Get your copy of The Imperfectionists from:

Book Depository | Amazon | Kobobooks | B&N | Indigo | Booktopia(Aus)

Genre: Drama, Literature, Romance

About the Author, Tom Rachman

Tom Rachman was born in London in 1974 and raised in Vancouver. He attended the University of Toronto and Columbia Journalism School, then worked as a journalist for the Associated Press in New York and Rome and for the International Herald Tribune in Paris. His first novel, The Imperfectionists, was an international bestseller, translated into twenty-five languages. He has since published a second novel The Rise and Fall of Great Powers and a short story collection Basket of Deplorables. His third novel The Italian Teacher will be released March 2018. He lives in London.

Other reviews of The Imperfectionists

Goodreads, NYTimesThe MillionsAV Club, Kirkus Reviews