Mak­ing facts fic­tion

A bril­liant new novel from Amer­ica fits com­fort­ably into the well-crafted tra­di­tion of drama­tis­ing the jour­nal­is­tic life

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Entertainment - RE­VIEWED BY DAVID HER­MAN

Tom Rach­man Quer­cus, £6.99

TOM RACH­MAN’S novel about life on an in­ter­na­tional news­pa­per, a dow­nat-heel ver­sion of the In­ter­na­tional H e r a l d T r i b u n e , starts out as a book about jour­nal­ists, a world away from the hack­ing scan­dal. But this may be mis­lead­ing. It is re­ally a set of sto­ries about cor­po­rate life, its frus­tra­tions, lone­li­ness and of­fice pol­i­tics, end­ing up as a thought­ful, mov­ing med­i­ta­tion on the pass­ing of time, the re­la­tions of chil­dren to their par­ents, lost loves and fail­ure.

Each chap­ter fol­lows a char­ac­ter, usu­ally a jour­nal­ist on the news­pa­per, and in just a few pages cap­tures his or her life. These char­ac­ters then weave in and out of other chap­ters so that, by the end, you have a sense of the whole news­room, from the edi­tor to the chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, down to the hope­less would-be stringer in Cairo.

Al­ter­nat­ing be­tween these chap­ters is a se­ries of short episodes, chron­i­cling the his­tory of the news­pa­per from its found­ing in Rome in 1953, to its at­tempt to sur­vive in the mod­ern age of the in­ter­net and 24-hour news chan­nels.

Rach­man has a real gift for cap­tur­ing a life in a few sen­tences. When we first meet Arthur Gopal, the obit­u­ary­writer, his “cu­bi­cle used to be near the water­cooler, but the bosses tired of hav­ing to chat with him each time they got thirsty. So the water­cooler stayed and he was moved.” Hardy Ben­jamin is the busi­ness re­porter: “By mid-af­ter­noon she has writ­ten a thou- sand words, which is greater than the num­ber of calo­ries she has con­sumed since yes­ter­day.” Ruby Zaga, the copy edi­tor, is in her mid-40s. These are the con­tents of her fridge: “a jar of black olives, no-name ketchup, cheese slices.” It gets worse. Much worse.

Rach­man gets in­side the heads of his char­ac­ters, male and fe­male, young and mid­dle-aged, and in no time you are wrapped up in their bit­ter-sweet sto­ries of bro­ken mar­riages and ca­reers that have stalled on both sides of the At­lantic.

The news­pa­per ends up as an ag­gre- gate of failed lives. The jour­nal­ists treat each other ap­pallingly. At the end of the day, “most slip out one by one; they stag­ger their de­par­tures to avoid hav­ing to share the el­e­va­tor down.”

This is al­ways deftly done. In the first chap­ter, we meet the news edi­tor, Craig Men­zies. The main char­ac­ter in the chap­ter is try­ing to pitch a story to Men­zies. Men­zies is al­ways at his desk, what­ever time the des­per­ate jour­nal­ist calls.

As each chap­ter fol­lows, Men­zies is at his desk: first in, last to leave. By the time he fi­nally has his own sad chap­ter, we al­ready know all we need to know about his life.

The fi­nal chap­ter tells us more about the news­pa­per’s founder, why he founded the pa­per, whom he loved and from whom he fled. We re­alise the book has taken us through the 50-year life of the news­pa­per, and brought to life a mov­ing cast of char­ac­ters. By turns, funny and des­per­ately sad, Rach­man’s al­ways read­able novel is a ter­rific de­but. David Her­man is the JC’s chief fic­tion re­viewer

Hack in the box: Rus­sell Crowe in the 2009 movie State of Play based on a BBC se­ries about a fic­tional news­pa­per

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