Tom Rachman’s debut peels away the glamour of a Roman locale and the glory of international journalism to reveal the static nuts and bolts of dysfunction.
A somewhat standard cast of characters (over-the-hill lush, icy/secretly vulnerable editrix, whip-smart singleton, bumbling naif, darling mensch, abrasive middle-aged dude with a suspiciously lovely younger girlfriend, etc.) comprise the staff of an unnamed English-language newspaper. Each chapter focuses on a different character that highlights their foibles, gripes, and merits. This structure proved appealing, especially since it managed to approximate action in that someone and their neuroses are always being introduced, then unceremoniously brushed aside to make room for the next. The prose is dialogue-heavy, which is all the better to show off Rachman’s deft, effervescent ear. Ultimately though, his facile observational style became mundane, and left this reader hoping for a character, plot, or idea to latch onto.
Although the book made a halfhearted attempt to describe the modest rise and sudden fall of a newspaper in the Internet Age, it has the emotional impact of a third-hand anecdote that allows one to be narrowly analytical and presumptuously accurate. Of course this dinky newspaper founded on the providential economic graces of the ‘50s will be unable to compete with technologically gluttonous conglomerates that provide instantaneous updates and the enterprising snark that is the domain of everybody with computer access! (Sheesh.)
To his credit, Rachman generally avoids sentimentalizing, so he must understand that his gift lies in buoyancy and earned sweetness. That makes me hopeful that his next outing will be like this one, but with a bit more ambition.