I’m just back from a glorious, albeit brief, not-quite-summer vacation, so have very few substantive publishing insights to share. I was, however, fortunate enough to head out with a few good books tucked into my suitcase. First, The Imperfectionists, which is an arresting and impressive debut novel from former foreign correspondent and editor Tom Rachman. Set at an international English language newspaper based in Rome, something like a second rate International Herald Tribune, each chapter tells the story of a staffer (plus one avid, eccentric reader) ranging from a would-be stringer to a bitter copyeditor to the paper’s miserable CFO. Although these are essentially linked short stories, together they tell a larger tale about this paper in particular and the newspaper business in general (both sliding into oblivion), and the bittersweet, utterly recognizable lives of the men and women who labor on its behalf. The Imperfectionists has garnered terrific reviews—perhaps in part because the people who review books are very often journalists who delight in reading about themselves. But whatever the case, the clever, unorthodox, non-linear structure was refreshing, and for me, a good omen.
There is a fear that the book world is becoming homogeneous; I often hear people complain that the books “out there” are somehow cut from the same cloth. While I hardly think that present publishing climate is some Panglossian best of all possible worlds, I’m still struck by the sheer variety of the books I encounter, personally and professionally.
Indeed, two other new books that vacationed with me—both Book Expo handouts—were also unusually shaped. Neither Antonya Nelson’s Bound—a character driven novel of two disintegrating families, nor The Midnight Choir, by Gene Kerrigan a terrific, gritty Dublin crime novel that weaves together the stories of assorted police and criminals in the now bygone era of the Celtic Tiger, were quite so short-fiction-ish as The Imperfectionists, but each work was expansive and sprawling enough to push the boundaries of the conventional novel.
I also read an ARC for The Thousand by Kevin Guilfoile, a smart but preposterous thriller in the DaVinci Code vein that Knopf is publishing. The premise, that the world is run by warring cults of Pythagoreans (who are involved in more than just geometry), hits all the right notes—arcane ancient knowledge, secret cabals of powerful elites, plus a dose of speculative fiction—but it’s not my cup of tea. I must lack the conspiracy theory gene. I can’t bring myself to believe that any society, secret or otherwise, is so remarkably organized.