Publication: October 2nd 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genres: General Fiction, Sci-Fi, Ultimate Nerdiness
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra.
The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.
With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that’s rare to the world of literary fiction. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter the time of day.
I have a THOUSAND things to say about this book, and filtering them through will take me almost forever. So I decided to write this review bullet-style.
- The writing is beyond exceptional. Never have I read a book with such easy dialogues and refreshing prose. It felt as if I was having a conversation with a college student or a distant cousin. Weird observation, huh? It’s also full of inhibited quirk and it doesn’t try too hard like in the past novels I’ve read with similar elements.
- The overall plot direction is insanely fantastical. Most novels go around twists and turns due to a misguided plot, and it often concludes to a loose ending. On the other hand, I am amazed by Robin Sloan’s excellent storytelling skills.
- The characters are diverse and well-drawn. Our narrator, Clay Jannon, is one of the best yet. He has so much vibrance to his personality. He is instantly likeable and I love how he geeks over books. His circle of friends remind me of the Avengers. They all possess unique talents to save the world – or the bookstore. Sloan paints a self-portrait for each character; making sure no two paintings have the same water-colour base or brush strokes. That’s how awesome the people are in this book.
- The technological/typographical aspect aka The Geek Factor of this book is delicious. Even though I don’t particularly follow with the high-tech data visualisation concept thing, reading about it makes me feel excited for the future of technology. I also have to admit that it was like a school-experience; I was learning a lot of things page by page. It also increased my growing obsession over fonts.
I still have a lot to say but it might spoil your reading experience with Mr. Penumbra’s. I highly suggest that you pick this up immediately. It’s really best if you don’t know much about the book and dive into the unknown. There are parts of the novel that will leave you in hilarious, mindblowing situations. Be prepared.
All in all, this book exceeded my expectations. This book is already in my Top Books of 2014 and has set the reading bar really, really high. I look forward to seeking more of Sloan’s work…