I picked up this novel at Blackwells in London. It was part of a wonderful display that could almost have been put together just for me – books about books.
And what a funny, page-flipping, enjoyable read this turned out to be.
Set in San Francisco, redundant web designer Clay Jannon finds himself night shift work in the curious Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It doesn’t take long for him to work out that the store is a front for some larger operation as it only has a handful of dedicated customers who never buy anything. They simply borrow huge, heavy obscure volumes all according to a bizarre arrangement with the likeable yet eccentric owner, Mr Penumbra.
Suspicions aroused, Clay plugs in his laptop and ropes his friends (including Google genius Kat) into embarking on a high-tech analysis of the store and the strange behaviour of its customers. Soon they find themselves mixed up in a global cult with ancient secrets, codes and conspiracies. And then Mr Penumbra mysteriously disappears.This book, for me, is like Dan Brown (in theme, not terrible writing!) meets Haruki Murakami and is an absolutely gripping read. You just don’t know where the plot is heading from one chapter to the next as Penumbra’s crazy world unfurls.
I loved the drama of cracking the code, the insight into Google (the place) with its book scanners and lecture theatres full of tech nerds. Most of all I guess I loved the setting in the bookshop and how books are pitted against technology throughout the story which inevitably leads the reader to conclude that there is a place and a use for everything – books and new media.
This big-hearted story occupies the time and space where the ancient world and contemporary life collide. Where there could’ve been war, Sloan has created harmony and acceptance that leaves you feeling warm and optimistic that the new world isn’t so cold. Like all good books, love wins the day. The love of books, the love of embracing new technology and the love in friendship.
This is a really, really good book.
SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 9/10
Notes on the author – Robin Sloan
- Grew up in Detroit, now lives in San Francisco
- Has worked in TV and for Twitter in jobs that “generally figure out the future of media.”
- Mr Penumbra started life as a 6000 word e-book