From the outset, I'll admit that I love reading books set in media organisations, and particularly newspapers. There are classics in the genre such as the incomparable Scoop
by Evelyn Waugh and Michael Frayn's Towards the End of the Morning
, and I'm not sure that The Imperfectionists doesn't deserve to join them.
Tom Rachmann's novel is set in a nameless international English-language paper that is in no way related to The International Herald Tribune. Each chapter gives us another element of life in "the paper" from the point of view of a different member of staff. Starting with the past-it Paris correspondent we take a spin or two around the newsroom and even head farther afield. Between chapters we learn how the paper was founded and evolved over time. A picture is painted of a paper that perhaps turned a profit at one time, but only really for a brief period of its history.
It's clear that life can't continue as it has. The internet has arrived. Costs are constantly being cut, and the paper can't afford the correspondents it needs to survive and tell the story of what's happening in the non-Western world early in the 21st century. This is a newspaper that doesn't even have a web presence.
I found it a compelling study of a newspaper that might be a little different to those we know in the UK, but at the same time is very similar to our broadsheets, nearly all of which are loss-making and trying to find their place in a digital age.
The characters are very believable, and while they are mostly Americans abroad, they are great character studies that you can imagine were closely observed by Rachmann in his time in newspapers.