observations: The Paris-based International Herald Tribune stopped operating under that name last week: now it is the International New York Times. That’s seen as the end of an era – although the paper has had various names in its life. It was an iconic part of the American experience abroad, and it was the paper Jean Seberg was selling in a Paris street at the beginning of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film Breathless – the scene that was described as worth the price of admission on its own. (Though of course the paper had a different name then - New York Herald Tribune.)
Tom Rachman’s book is a wholly fictional picture of an international paper produced in Europe for cosmopolitan people. The fact that he worked for the International Herald Tribune is naturally coincidental. (It’s sometimes hard to remember that the book is set in Rome – it feels as if it should be Paris.) It is in the form of a set of chapters, each centred on one person directly connected with the paper.
It is a lovely book: funny, sad, real, with very recognizable characters and conversations and relationships. Didn’t we all know someone like Jimmy, above, as a teenager? On the next page Jimmy’s friend wonders what on earth Molly Bloom from Ulysses looks like. Luckily Clothes in Books can show him:
He gets a job on the paper because his arcane knowledge and pedantry come in handy – excellent description of what a journalist needs.
Just picking three pages at random: There is the character Hardy who ‘has written a thousand words, which is greater than the number of calories she has consumed since yesterday’. There is the lunchtime slander session about colleauges: ‘Kathleen misses the point, Clint Oakley can’t even do a basic obit, Herman is living in another era.’ There’s the page that has the very important Puzzle-Wuzzle – we never do find out what that consists of.
Although very specific to this particular paper, the book gives a great and very truthful picture of the way journalists operate – (compare with Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning) and is saturated with the sadness of a world where newspapers are disappearing, and journalism is changing beyond all recognition. A book that really does describe and define its era, as well as making you laugh and wince in equal measure.
The top picture, from the Smithsonian, is of artist Guy Wiggins.