You know how sometimes you go see a movie that’s been adapted from a book you’d previously read and you go, “Huh. It was good, but I liked the book better”?
Tom Rachman’s novel, The Imperfectionists, has been (rather famously) picked up by Brad Pitt (hence the “rather famously”) to be adapted into a film. After I finished reading it last night I had a thought I have never once had before after reading a literary work. Namely, “That’s going to be a much better movie than a novel.”
I’ve read novels that were clearly written to be adapted into film, but this was something else altogether. I lay awake for about two hours trying to figure out that “altogether” was, and I think I got it. I also revised my initial reaction, because while I do think it’s going to be a better movie than novel, it’s an entirely worthwhile read.
The Imperfectionists is a work of literature, it’s not just fiction. It has great literary merit. Rachman can write. Unlike other literary novels, however, The Imperfectionists…how do I say this without sounding like an ass or a moron or both because I’m either hugely stupid and oblivious and naive or just plain wrong or obnoxiously arrogant but OK, here goes deep breath…has no point. It has no theme, no message.
But, and this is the crucial point, that’s OK. And this is why it will work so well as a movie. Rachman has written an imagist novel. The work consists of vignettes and sketches that may cover a day, a week, a month but are functionally freeze-frame snapshots of character and mood and tone and setting. Petals on a wet, black bough. A red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens. Stars wheel in purple, yours is not so rare.
Which all means, to me anyway, that The Imperfectionists is a bit of a masterpiece. Because right now, today, book closed and a few miles away on the floor next to my bed, I can see everyone of those people, the newsroom, the cafes in Rome, the looks on faces, the piercing stares, the breath-catching pain and shock at the recognition of the voice at the other end of the phone, the hotel room, the old lady granny underpants, the dusty paintings in the villa, all of it.
Read it. You’ll see it, too.