UPDATE: It seems we’re not the only ones to enjoy this book. Brad Pitt’s film company has now bought the movie rights…Well done Mr Rachman!
Tom Rachman’s Rome-based novel ‘The Imperfectionists’ is starting to attract a lot of attention now it has been released in the U.S, but despite his hectic promotion schedule, Rachman has agreed to share with us a few of his secrets and recommendations for your next visit to the Eternal City.
The novel is based around a fading English language newspaper. Chapter by chapter we are introduced to eleven characters who all have some kind of involvement with the paper – from its editor, to foreign correspondents, an obsessive sub-editor, and even the obituary writer. They all depend on the paper in some way, even if their private lives are falling apart and their futures look uncertain.
The characters are extremely well-drawn and the style of the novel means we have to get to know them pretty much instantly – but they are some wonderful people to become acquainted with. It would be a challenge to name my favorite, but I’d probably end up tossing a coin between poor old hardworking news editor Menzies and the foreign correspondent from hell, Rich Snyder (really, you have to read the novel for yourself – I couldn’t possibly describe how obnoxious this man is!) .
My only complaint…I want to know more. As you get to the end of a chapter, you know it may very well be the last you see of that character, and it is with a bit of a sad heart that you turn the page to meet the next one. Each and every one of them would be worthy of a book in their own right, and I suppose we will just have to wait and see whether Rachman will bring any of them back in future novels.
From a Packabook perspective, at about half way through the novel I was worried we weren’t going to see as much of Rome as I would have liked, but in the second half there were lots of glimpses of the city. From the garden bar at the Hotel de Russie to the Piazza San Salvatore and the narrow sidewalks that follow the Tiber. For someone who is about to travel to the city, this would be a great read to take with you.
Let’s hear a bit more about Rome from our chat with Canadian-raised Rachman who first fell in love with Italy on a family holiday when he was 12, and was dispatched there as a journalist when he was 28. These days, he shares his time between Rome and London…..
Packabook – “What made you decide to set the novel in Rome?”
Rachman – I suppose because I knew the city well — it existed in my imagination, although I wrote the book when living in Paris. Also, I wanted to write about the life of the expat. I have been one for many years and find its culture amusing and intriguing. A novel about journalists living abroad seemed to fit the bill!
Packabook – “How did you choose the particular locations you did?”
Rachman – The characters all live in different areas of the city — Trastevere, Monteverde, Testaccio and so on. Those who know Rome will recognize that these are quarters where expats live. Certain locations come from my life there — in particular, when a character is described as wandering down particular streets, you can bet that these are routes I myself have often strolled.
Packabook – “What are the top three must-dos for someone traveling to Rome?”
Rachman – It’s such a visited city that it’s hard to answer this without sounding like the first page of any tourist guide. But here goes: 1) I continue to find the Colosseum and the Forum astonishing and worthwhile; 2) the Vatican and its museum offer another still-influential layer of Italian culture; and 3) most important of all, in my view, I suggest that people walk and walk and walk. Within the center of town, one finds a network of the most stunning, opulent, decadent alleys and palazzi. Simply wandering and admiring the surroundings is perhaps my greatest pleasure in Rome.
Packabook – “And how about one that is really off the beaten track? A hidden secret?”
Rachman – Chiostro del Bramante, a museum near Piazza Navona, contains a marvelous upstairs cafe hidden within gorgeous cloisters and frescoes. For some reason, despite its central location, the cafe is typically empty. Make sure you sit outside on the tiny seats nestled in the cloisters themselves. A delightful spot for a cool drink away from the tourist-clogged squares of central Rome during the summer.
Packabook- “Any other favourite cafes or restaurants you recommend?”
Rachman – Caffe Doria, on the ground floor of the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, makes superb coffee and offers wonderful service, which cannot be said of many bars and eateries in the city. For traditional Roman cuisine, eat at La Matricianella; for a charming (if pricey) lunch spot, try Casa Bleve.
Packbook – “Any thoughts on where you will set your next novel?”
Rachman – Yes, but I’m afraid I can’t say — I’m a bit secretive about my writing when I’m in the middle of it. Suffice to say that this one will be international, too!
Thanks Tom for your suggestions, and we look forward to where that next novel will take us! In the meantime, grab yourself a copy of ‘The Imperfectionists’ and imagine you are reading it in the beautiful garden bar of the Hotel de Russie…
P.S. Why not head over to Packabook’s main site to find yourself some more books set in Italy and immerse yourself in some other wonderful Rome-based novels.