The premise of this book fascinated me: an insight into the lives of the writers and readers of an international newspaper based in Rome. The novel is structured across two histories. Firstly, the personal history of each of the characters, all somehow connected to the newspaper. These chapters are then interspersed with the history of the newspaper itself, which we find out was founded by a multi-millionaire as a statement of love for a woman he couldn’t have.
Rachman’s intention here is noble, huge, in fact and I am not sure that he entirely succeeds. The newspaper is fascinating and the history of its creation and creator very readable. Likewise, each of the characters is well constructed, realistically confounded and very worthy of the readers’ empathy.
However, each of these strands of narrative is left hanging, readers unsure of the outcome of the individual stories. While this is clearly partly Rachman’s purpose to unsettle the reader, it leaves an unsatisfactory taste of transitoriness in the reader’s mouth. There were moments in this book where I felt somehow cheated by this author, robbed of some need to know what happened to these partly developed characters and narratives. Indeed, there were things that I didn’t appreciate; moments where I felt that Rachman had stolen part of the joy of reading from me.
This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this book, because I did. I was captivated by Abbey and Herman and Lloyd and Winston and Craig and Kathleen and the Ott empire – just to mention a few! I desperately wanted to know more, wanted to read further into their lives and experiences. I think it is was the fact that I was actually enjoying Rachman’s world that lead me to feel disappointed by this book. Perhaps, had it been a series of short stories my expectations would have been different.