Tom Rachman's debut novel, The Imperfectionists, has been one of the most hyped books of the year. That it is an engrossing read is unquestionable, but whether it should be considered a novel, on the other hand, is open to some debate. The book is a collection of short stories all connected by the characters' affiliation with an English language newspaper operating in Rome. One is a freelance Paris correspondent at the end of his career. Another is the obituary writer and editor of the puzzle page. There is the current publisher, the editor in chief and the chief financial officer, not very affectionately known as "Accounts Payable." Characters central in one story are sometimes mentioned in others, but for the most part each story most often deals with the protagonist's personal life and stands alone.
There are certainly thematic connections: the central figures are certainly "imperfectionists." There are older men having problems with younger women. There are lonely women demeaning themselves for faux romance. There are people who are unable to adapt to the demands of the new media environment. Moreover, they are all attached to a central spine between stories detailing the history of the newspaper (modeled on the International Herald Tribune), much in the way individual stories are connected in such classics as The Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio's Decameron. These are two or three page glimpses into significant dates in the paper's history: its inception, the hiring of new blood, the changes in the publishing family.
The nice thing about this kind of structure is that if you find one story and its characters not to your taste, there is always going to be another one you may like better. The problem is that the stories that don't interest you may get in the way of those that do. Advantage or disadvantage, is a work of fiction structured in this way really something that should be called a novel?