Unread now read book 7 – Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store, Robin Sloan

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Well, what to say about this novel. The title of the novel implies a heartwarming, quirky tale of people bonding over books or possibly a spot of magic realism. In reality it’s a mish-mash of quest, love story, adventure, and a debate on the merits of traditional methods of publishing (print) versus modern (Google books, etc.). When I searched for other reviews of this novel, I found a good one at lostinagreatbook that described it as a “… a mix of the DaVinci Code and Douglas Copeland’s J-Pod, with a dash of Lord of the Rings.” I think that is a great summary!

Clay Jannon, the ‘hero’, is an unemployed graphic designer with some basic web programming skills who takes a job as a night clerk at the book store of the title. Customers are few and far between, and the ones who do come in seem only to want to ‘borrow’ books from the mysterious section at the back of the store rather than buy anything. Clay has little contact with the owner and spends most of his time trying to work out what the store is a front for and coming up with tasks that will keep him occupied over the long nights. He is required to enter the details of every ‘customer’ in a log book, the latest in a long line of log books that he occasionally flicks through when he is bored. Being the conscientious type, he decides to try to drive more business to the story and sets up a whole load of GoogleAds, etc. which works when a young woman (Kat) comes in (who coincidentally works at Google) and they bond over the 3D image of the store he has created on his laptop.

And then the story just kind of takes off – but not in a good way. I won’t even begin to try to explain the plot here as it is not only complicated but wouldn’t make any sense! I don’t mind complex plotting but it needs to lead to you somewhere, which this novel doesn’t. Suffice to say, there is a mysterious book society, complex code-breaking, global conspiracies, high-tech data visualization, several subplots including one about a popular font (Gerritszoon by Griffo), another about a wizard saga trilogy that Clay loved as a kid – you really have to read it, to believe it.

However, I didn’t mind the random sub plots as much as I minded the heavy-handed ‘infomercials’ that are jammed into Clay’s mouth. I happen to find typography, bookbinding and web programming all very interesting but the chunks of the book devoted to these areas are just that, chunks, and very clunky too. Let’s just say that the author’s knowledge is not worn lightly in this novel!

In summary, great idea, poorly executed.

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About Nicola

I am a proud book nerd who also has the travel bug bad; I LOVE recommending books to others (even when they aren't that interested) and spend way too much time looking at amusing cat photos on the internet.
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