Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Book Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

It has been some time since I read fiction (I read The Road sometime last year, but have been mostly reading popular science for a while), but I rather stumbled upon a perfect re-introduction to the art-form. I noticed that Cassie Ramone was scheduled to play a few songs at Studio X in Manhattan, pairing her up with author Robin Sloan for a podcast (I had been to a similar one in January with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats), so I RSVP'd and went along, and found myself with a copy of the book. 

Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore follows the story of Clay, a bit of a down-and-out graphic designer with not a lot going for him. Whilst looking for a job he ends up working in a strange bookstore (Mr Penumbra's, of course), with strange customers and customs. Before too long we are taken down the rabbit hole of secret societies, coded messages and mystery, and a group on a quest to find more. The book deals with clashes of tradition and modernity, both in terms of ideology and technology and in the case of the latter certainly leaves room for both. 

I was enjoying the book immensely and was thoroughly engaged, but at the back of my mind I was hoping that I wouldn't be disappointed with the ending. Without giving anything away, I wasn't. 

Robin Sloan has delightfully crafted a story that encapsulates the imagination without paying lip service to the fanciful. Something to appeal to the real nerds among us. This is not a laugh-out-loud comedy, an outrageous fantasy, nor a tear-jerking story of relationships, but it is a beautiful blend of many of those things. The characters are quirky and the dialog is clever, with references that are very much of the present (which will date it in years to come, but I don't think that's a bad thing) and I found myself with an almost constant smile whilst reading.

Fiction is often interpreted in many ways but I took great heart at my own reading between the lines, we are the makers of our own life and story. Read Mr Penumbra's 24-hour book store and think about what your codex vitae would look like...

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