Friday, October 11, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan | Book Review

TITLE: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel
AUTHOR: Robin Sloan
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Farrar, Straus and Giroux / 2012
SOURCE: Purchased

Goodreads / Author's Website

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is a book that I've been dying to read since it was first released. I honestly couldn't tell you why I've wanted to read it so badly; I haven't heard much about it, but between the cover and the fact that bookstore is right there in the title I knew I had to give it a shot. I was away for a month and found myself in an English bookstore in France; I knew I had to buy something and I settled on this book. I read it immediately. When I got home I realized I had already purchased a copy, but it was hidden away on my very disorganized bookshelves. Oh well, at least I read it, right? Clearly I can't resist a book about books.

This book kind of defies classification; it's literary fiction, but it's also a mystery, love and coming of age story rolled into one. Does that make any sense at all? Maybe I shouldn't have read the majority of this one on a very long plane ride. Mr. Penumbra's centres on Clay Jannon, a young tech worker who after losing his job to the recession finds himself working as a clerk at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. It's a musty old store filled with regular customers who never seem to buy anything and are clearly involved in something that goes beyond this one tiny bookstore. They come in late at night, borrowing books that can't be sold only to return them the next time they come in, in exchange for another book. Clay begins to dig into the mystery surrounding his new workplace all while wooing a girl who just happens to work at Google.

If my summary is a little confusing, well it stands to reason. Mr. Penumbra's isn't the easiest book to describe or well, even understand. I enjoyed every second of it, but it has so many twists and turns it can get confusing. The plotting throughout the book was what really made it for me. It was fast paced and I was never totally sure where it was going. I loved the integration of new world technology with the old world style book store and how neither was secondary to the plot. All the elements worked together to forward the mystery. It was tightly woven and the character's were all so hopeful that even though I was skeptical of the big reveal I kept pressing forward. Also, there's a secret society of book lovers; who doesn't love the sound of that?

The characters themselves weren't my favourite part of the book which is surprising for me considering I am normally so focused on the protagonist. Clay was an okay character. I kind of liked his ambition and his every man kind of attitude; he was also a pretty loyal guy, but he just didn't draw me in like my favourites do. However, the relationships Sloan built throughout the story made it all okay. The interactions between characters sold the story. Clay's friends were fantastic, equal parts supportive and selfish and their interactions were at times hilarious, but could also be touching or infuriating, just like in life.

I mean really, if you're looking for a book about books this is definitely the book for you. It might not be as fast paced as other adventure type stories and the romance is secondary to other plot points, but Mr. Penumbra's had a certain charm that pulled me in. Sloan's obvious affection for books shone through the Google veneer without denigrating modern technology. I for one appreciated the approach.

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