Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Imperfectionists

The Imperfectionists, the debut novel by Tom Rachman, is my favorite book of the year so far. It's just brilliant!  I must admit that the first thing that drew me to this novel was its title, The Imperfectionists.  I thought it was so unique and I loved the cover. I wondered what it was about so I did some research and I knew I had to read it if only for how this young writer was so determined to write his first novel. I was sold after reading his account below.

Rachman recounts, "I took my life savings and moved to Paris, where I knew not a soul and whose language I spoke only haltingly. Solitude was what I sought: a cozy apartment, a cup of tea, my laptop. I switched it on. One year later, I had a novel. And it was terrible.

My plan – all those years in journalism--had been a blunder, it seemed. The writing I had aspired to do was beyond me. I lacked talent. And I was broke.

Dejected, I nursed myself with a little white wine, goat cheese and baguette, then took the subway to the International Herald Tribune on the outskirts of Paris to apply for a job. Weeks later, I was seated at the copy desk, composing headlines and photo captions, aching over my failure. I had bungled my twenties. I was abroad, lonely, stuck.

But after many dark months, I found myself imagining again. I strolled through Parisian streets, and characters strolled through my mind, sat themselves down, folded their arms before me, declaring, "So, do you have a story for me?"

I switched on my computer and tried once more. This time, it was different. My previous attempt hadn't produced a book, but it had honed my technique. And I stopped fretting about whether I possessed the skill to become a writer, and focused instead on the hard work of writing. Before, I had winced at every flawed passage. Now, I toiled with my head down, rarely peeking at the words flowing across the screen. I revised, I refined, I tweaked, I polished. Not until exhaustion--not until the novel that I had aspired to write was very nearly the one I had produced--did I allow myself to assess it. To my amazement, a book emerged."

Tom Rachman is a former journalist who's worked in New York, Asia, Rome and Paris. He took elements of his experiences and turned it into a novel set in Rome with a varied cast of characters, most of whom work for an unnamed English language newspaper. Each chapter reads like a short story with each one focusing on a particular character. To name a few - there's Lloyd, the Paris correspondent who's past his prime. Abby, or as she's called by the staff, 'Accounts Payable,' who on a transatlantic flight, finds herself seated next to the person she just fired. Winston, the naive Cairo stringer who competes for a job with the manipulative Snyder. These are just some of the varied cast of characters in the book. They're all imperfect people, some more imperfect than others. While they struggle with their own personal demons, the paper's existence is threatened by a dwindling readership and the advancement of other forms of media.

I absolutely loved Rachman's writing which transported me to modern day Rome. Though we only meet each character for a short time, Rachman gives them a surprising amount of depth and realism. The dialogue is witty and sometimes funny and the scenarios are engaging with some unexpected twists. The book covers a wide array of themes such as life, death, love, ambition, loneliness. It's truly amazing that this is Rachman's first book. It's difficult to say which chapter I liked more because each one was riveting in its own way. There are also intervening vignettes of how the paper was first formed in the 50s by an American entrepreneur, Cyrus Ott, who has his own story to tell. The stories are either comic, tragic or both.

The Imperfectionists is a marvelous find and I'm so looking forward to what Rachman will produce next but this will definitely be a very hard act to follow. There is a line in the book where a character reacts to a painting: " (The artist) flubbed it, not simply because his human forms were inept but because the human form can never be rendered beautiful."  Imperfection is what makes people more interesting so though it deals with flawed characters, I thought The Imperfectionists was actually a perfect novel.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

And Now For Some TV

I confess that while I've been nursing my newborn, (before I got my Kindle) I haven't been able to read that much. It's not so easy to hold a book while cradling a baby in your arms. I had to make do with playing Plants vs. Zombies on my iphone or watching films and lavish BBC TV productions on my ipad courtesy of the AV player app. It's great! Definitely worth every cent of its $2.99 price. I just slip on my earphones in the middle of the night and watch a piece of a film while baby lies in my arms.

I loved Downton Abbey, a beautiful BBC production written by Julian Fellowes who also wrote the movie Gosford Park and the novel Snobs. The series stars Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern and is set just before the first world war. Lord Robert Crawley  and his family live a life of leisure in their beautiful home, Downton Abbey. Downstairs, a fleet of servants attend to their every whim. Since Crawley only has three daughters and no son, his distant cousin Mathew, a country solicitor, becomes heir to the estate thereby usurping Crawley's eldest daughter, Mary. Apart from this, there are various interesting subplots involving the other family members and the servants. Downton Abbey is filmed entirely at the stunningly beautiful Highclere Castle, home to the Earls of Carnarvon. I can't wait for the second season of this wonderful series!

Yesterday, I started watching The Killing, a Danish TV series in 20 parts. The Danish title is Forbrydelsen which means 'the crime.' I first heard about this show when my husband's family in the Netherlands raved about it two years ago. I was dying to watch it then but it wasn't available with English subtitles. Finally after a long wait, it was shown in the BBC with the subs. Nanna Birk Larsen, a 19-year-old girl, is found brutally raped and murdered. Detective Inspector Sarah Lund of the Copenhagen Police department heads the investigation. It soon becomes clear that they are chasing an intelligent and dangerous murderer. Each episode follows the investigation day by day, with a one-hour episode covering 24 hours of the investigation. After one episode I'm hooked. Forget CSI or those really flashy American shows which I can never get into. The Killing  is so grittingly realistic.

Can you recommend other good TV movies? How about the new Upstairs Downstairs? Is it any good?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Kindle For Me

I never thought I'd buy an e-reader. I love the feel and smell of books too much. I love having them around the house, cramming my shelves and overflowing my night table. But besides being a bookworm, I'm also a big fan of gadgets. Between my husband and I, I'm the one with the iphone, the ipad, the SLR or the latest point and shoot. I just love these things.

When I physically saw the Kindle, I thought it looked unbelievably light and so thin. It's a fantastic device. But still I believed I didn't need one. However, during the last few months I've been dying to read certain books that are not available in Manila. If you know the feeling, then you know this can be quite frustrating. I could always order them from The Book Depository but that usually takes 10 or more days and I wanted them yesterday. So that's what finally sold me. Having the Kindle would give me access to books that aren't available here and to new hardbound novels. So I made my order and I got my Kindle yesterday. I love it already! It's amazing and I've already started reading my first book., The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. So far, it's pretty good. And what are you reading on your Kindle?
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